Florida TaxWatch, the business-backed nonprofit that describes itself as a government watchdog, has targeted $107 million in budget “turkeys” for Gov. Rick Scott to red-line as he ponders the state’s $74.5 billion spending plan.
The hit list includes Palm Beach County projects totaling $9,330,422, or nearly 9 percent of the 107 items that made TaxWatch’s annual budget review.
TaxWatch defines “turkeys” as items 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.
“Despite having a budget surplus for the first time in some time, we actually think the Legislature showed some restraint in member projects,” said Kurt Wenner, who directed the TaxWatch project.
But Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, slammed the organization’s method of targeting the turkeys, which include $14 million for a science and technology building at Gulf Coast State College in Gaetz’s district.
“This is an arrogance of the elite who spend too much time in Tallahassee and Washington listening to the echoes of their own invented wisdom and thinking they’re hearing the voice of God,” Gaetz said.
At the top of the Palm Beach County projects questioned by TaxWatch: $6.5 million for Palm Beach State College’s proposed Loxahatchee Groves campus. The college has tried for five years to get state funding for a fifth campus. Former Gov. Charlie Crist once axed it from the budget, as did Scott two years ago.
Like Gaetz, Senate budget chief Joe Negron dismissed TaxWatch’s turkeys as a “tired media gimmick that has zero credibility.”
Negron said lawmakers held over 30 budget conference meetings where the House and Senate hash out differences, and “nobody from TaxWatch bothered to show up.”
TaxWatch targeted the college campus because it wasn’t on the state Division of College’s request and was ranked 24 out of 39 priority projects.
“Tell that to the people in western Palm Beach County. It’s an underserved area,” Negron, R-Stuart said.
And Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s violence prevention program also has the dubious distinction of making the list. TaxWatch recommended that Scott veto $450,000 of the $1 million lawmakers steered to Bradshaw to start a 15-person team and 24-hour hotline for people to report friends, neighbors or relatives they think may be dangerous before they act out.
Negron sounded skeptical about whether Bradshaw’s program would withstand Scott’s veto. Hundreds of people have e-mailed Scott asking him not to fund it. Many of the critics called the plan a “big brother” project that evoked tactics used by Nazis.
Bradshaw assured Negron that the project would not intrude on “personal liberties,” Negron said.
“I support his intent and what he’s trying to accomplish. I do think there are a lot of reasonable concerns. Sometimes you have to call a time out and regroup and this may be the time for that,” he said.
Other Palm Beach County projects on the list:
- $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.