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Business-backed Florida TaxWatch spots $107 million in budget turkeys

Thursday, May 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida TaxWatch, the business-backed non-profit that calls itself a “government watchdog,” has targeted $107 million “turkeys” they’re suggesting Gov. Rick Scott red-line as he ponders the state’s $74.5 billion spending plan.

The 107 projects add up to just one-half of one percent of the total budget, and about $60 million less than the group identified last year.

TaxWatch’s pinpointed $9,330,422 in Palm Beach County projects, including:
_ $450,000 of the $1 million lawmakers steered to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s violence intervention program;
_ $6.5 million for Palm Beach State College’s proposed Loxahatchee Groves campus;
_ $1,280,422 for Place of Hope at the Haven campus;
_ $100,000 for a nicotine addiction drug treatment program at Scripps Research Institute;
_ $1 million for Glades Area Street resurfacing in Belle Glade.

Two Treasure Coast projects also made TaxWatch’s hit list: $2 million for renovations at Indian River State College at the St. Lucie west campus and $200,000 for interior renovations of the Golden Gate building in Martin County.

The group also tagged a $14 million Gulf Coast State College project for a Panama City campus, something Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, wants built.

And Senate budget chief Joe Negron’s

TaxWatch identifies “turkeys” as items that were put into the budget at the last minute or without public vetting, which “circumvent lawfully established procedures,” or which steer money to special interests or local areas without going through the bidding process.

Scott has until May 24 to act on the budget. The Republican, who is running for reelection, slashed a whopping $181 million from the spending plan his first year on the job, and cut $63 million last year.

TaxWatch bags almost $150 million in legislative ‘turkeys’

Friday, April 13th, 2012 by John Kennedy

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.  


TaxWatch says state can save $4 billion-plus, with 135 changes

Thursday, September 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Florida TaxWatch, the business-backed public policy group, has come up with more than $4.1 billion in potential state savings — if lawmakers and state government implement 135 cost-cutting recommendations.

Among the highlights: increasing good-behavior gain time for prison inmates, expanding electronic monitoring of criminals, and cutting back on stiff penalties for marijuana and cocaine possession. Reducing Medicaid fraud — which has bedeviled officials at the state and federal levels — could save $223.8 million alone, a TaxWatch cost-saving task force found.

TaxWatch said similar recommendations made since 2009 have saved the state more than $1 billion.

Some of the recommendations appear obvious: urging state agencies to buy generics over name-brand products could save $305 million, the organization said. And some of the ideas show some out-of-the-box thinking: selling ads on some DOT road signs could pull in $75 million, TaxWatch estimated.

Some proposals also carry plenty of controversy. Boosting eligibility requirements for students earning Bright Futures scholarships, eliminating the state’s traditional pension plan, ending the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program for public employees are put in play, but would surely face stiff opposition from some fronts in the Legislature.

The full report is at

TaxWatch stings Palm Beach County for size of reserves

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Florida TaxWatch, the business-backed research group, issued a stinging report Wednesday on Palm Beach County’s higher-than-average financial reserves, saying county property taxes could likely be cut if officials drew down these dollars.

“There is no excuse for a county government to hoard excessive levels of reserves over time,” said Dominic M. Calabro, President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. “This continued trend has resulted in an unreasonable shift of taxpayer dollars to government coffers with no apparent benefit to the public at a time when counties need to find ways to maximize all opportunities to fund core services without raising taxes on its residents.”

TaxWatch found that the county has kept uncommitted reserves at 50 percent or more of its total spending from 2005 through 2010. By comparision, Hillsborough County has kept reserves at between 13 percent and 24 percent during the same period. The disparity hasn’t made much difference, TaxWatch concluded, since both counties have earned Triple A bond ratings from Wall Street.

Here’s the report:



Negron blasts TaxWatch ‘hackneyed’ turkey list

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Sen. Joe Negron slammed Florida TaxWatch’s annual budget “turkey” list, calling it a “media gimmick” based on the “mistaken rationale that budget decisions originating from the executive branch come clothed with a presumption of correctness while ideas from the elected representatives of the people should be viewed with suspicion.”

TaxWatch released the list to help Gov. Rick Scott with his veto pen. Scott is expected to sign the budget and red-line items of his choice Thursday afternoon.

Negron, a Stuart Republican who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee and was once the House’s budget chief, called out TaxWatch staff for the manner in which they arrived at $203 million in pork.

TaxWatch’s turkey criteria include items – more than half the total turkey list – that landed in the budget during or after conferences where budget negotiators from the House and Senate resolve differences between their two spending plans. Many of the items that eventually wound their way into the budget that way had never previously been discussed or proposed by either chamber.

TaxWatch’s “added in conference” category is “a flimsy basis to disparage a budget expenditure,” Negron said in a statement.

“The conference process is a meaningful and significant component of the appropriations enterprise. Conference provides an open and transparent opportunity for the House and Senate to negotiate an agreed upon budget and to take a concluding look at the Appropriations Act to determine final priorities. Many proposed funding items are reduced or eliminated during this review process,” he wrote.

Lawmakers ignore Grover Norquist pitch for criminal justice reform

Thursday, March 24th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Conservative icon Grover Norquist is in Tallahassee pitching the national “Smart on Crime” agenda, a prison reform movement that’s got the support of other “center right” politicos including Newt Gingrich and William Bennett.

Hosted by business-backed Florida TaxWatch, Norquist spoke for more than half an hour at the tony Governor’s Club to a crowd of lobbyists, criminal justice providers and policy makers.

TaxWatch is pushing the reform agenda aimed at cutting back on prison spending. The reforms include revamping mandatory minimum sentences, something House Speaker Dean Cannon said is a no-go this session.

But Norquist said elected officials don’t have to be afraid to support reforms because conservatives like Texas Gov. Rick Perry have proven the reforms work and save taxpayers money, something that could win points with tea party activists.

“They need to feel it’s potentially safe, that they won’t get hit in the back of the head with a 30-second ad saying they’re soft on crime,” Norquist said.

Whether he’s able to move the House remains unclear.

Only three lawmakers – GOP Sens. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Thad Altman of Viera and Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala – attended Norquist’s speech.

House criminal justice appropriations committee chairman Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, almost made it. He was spotted smoking a cigar outside a local watering hole steps away from the venue as Norquist wrapped up.

McCollum addresses TaxWatch, Sink to appear on video, Rubio coming to lunch

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 by George Bennett

PALM BEACH — Attorney General and 2010 Republican governor candidate Bill McCollum called for low taxes, “common-sense regulation,” improved education and “meaningful, significant litigation reform” in remarks to Florida TaxWatch’s annual meeting this morning at The Breakers.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the presumed Democratic nominee for governor next year, couldn’t attend the meeting because of a scheduling conflict but plans to appear by video, a spokeswoman said.

Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio is scheduled to deliver the luncheon keynote speech today. His GOP Senate primary rival, Gov. Charlie Crist, was invited but can’t appear because he’s getting ready for the special legislative session that begins Thursday.

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