TaxWatch bags almost $150 million in legislative ‘turkeys’by John Kennedy | April 13th, 2012
Gov. Rick Scott was urged Friday to veto $149.6 million in hometown projects and other suspect spending in the state’s proposed $70 billion budget, including millions tucked in by legislative leaders.
Florida TaxWatch released its annual “turkey watch” as a prelude to Scott’s planned budget signing next week. Last year, Scott vetoed a record $615 million in spending but recently told the Post he didn’t expect to get anywhere near that level in the latest round.
Still, TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro said Scott should rely on a simple guide when reviewing legislative spending proposals.
“When in doubt, take it out,” Calabro said.
In addition to the amount TaxWatch targeted for veto, the business-backed research organization recommended Scott take a closer look at $21.3 million in economic development projects. TaxWatch said it’s likely some can spur the economy, but added that the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity should give this 16-project list more scrutiny.
A handful of Palm Beach County budget items were marked as turkeys Friday. Among them, $1 million for water treatment work in the Glades area, $250,000 for security at this fall’s presidential debate at Boca Raton’s Lynn University, $50,000 to help prepare a master plan for Torry Island development, and $500,000 for widening Riviera Beach’s 13th Street.
Tony Brown, executive director of the Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Authority, earlier told the Post the 13th Street money would help the city complete a project it sees as vital to connecting a nearby industrial park to the Port of Palm Beach. He called the state’s expected contribution a “good public partnership” for a city strapped by several years of budget deficits.
Legislative leaders saw several of their hometown projects questioned. Two of the biggest spending items TaxWatch opposed were in the backyard of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, with $14 million for a Brevard College public safety institute and $10 million for economic development condemned as turkeys.
House budget chair Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, also would lose $520,203 for an international baccalaureate program at Sebring High School and incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, would have $389,825 axed from a science and technology program at a local middle school, if Scott follows TaxWatch’s recommendation.
But one of the most controversial spending provisions of the spring session was given the go-ahead Friday. TaxWatch said Sen. J.D. Alexander’s push for accelerating the creation of a 12th public university by giving independence to the University of South Florida’s Polytechnic campus in Lakeland — in Alexander’s home county — was included in legislation that was debated by lawmakers.
As a result, it doesn’t fit the organization’s definition of a turkey. But it still may not be the best use of taxpayer money. Polytechnic would receive $27 million in state start-up funds, while USF would get $16 million to cover costs stemming from the separation.
“Do we need a 12th university? I think the preponderance of our thinking is no,” Calabro said.