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No cranberry sauce but plenty of turkeys in next year's Florida budget, watchdog says

'Look, this is the taxpayer's money,' former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp says
Posted at 4:52 PM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 16:52:02-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — There's a lot of pork in Florida's next budget — or is that turkey? Nonprofit watchdog Florida TaxWatch is out with its latest Turkey Watch Report, highlighting more concerning spending than ever and urging the governor to consider cuts with his veto pen before signing.

TaxWatch announced its findings during a Wednesday news conference held in Tallahassee. After the annual review of the latest proposed spending plan, about $117.5 billion which lawmakers approved this session, officials found a lot of pork barrel spending.

TaxWatch calls them turkeys— essentially state-funded local projects that lack traditional scrutiny, oversight and review.

"Look, this is the taxpayer's money," former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, now a Florida TaxWatch executive vice presidents.

Kottkamp noted there were 450 budget turkeys this year or about $855 million worth. That's the most ever, a nearly 43% increase over the previous year. Water projects accounted for more than half.

"We shouldn't be behind closed doors, sprinkling hundreds of millions of dollars into the budget," Kottkamp said. "We have a process. We have months of committee meetings to vet these projects to have public input, to have a debate on the floor, and that process works."

TaxWatch also warned about the proliferation of individual lawmaker projects in general. This year, another record of more than 1,600 of them were approved or about $2.8 billion. That means, on average, each lawmaker is funneling their district about $17 million worth of state cash.

The House and Senate both had 2,700 member project requests — both over $7 billion," Kurt Wenner, Florida TaxWatch senior vice president, said. "You know, that's way too many to do any kind of thoughtful review. They've got to do something, I think, to limit the number of projects that are requested in the first place."

Florida's governor gets the final say on all this with his veto pen. He's already promised to trim things back a bit, saying this following the conclusion of the session in March.

"There may have to be a little trimming that is done, but that's how the cookie crumbles," Gov. Ron DeSantis said. "By the time we're done with going over the budget, it is assuredly going to be a net decrease in per-capita spending."

It remains unclear when DeSantis will get out the felt pens and sign the spending plan. It usually happens a few days after the Turkey Report comes out. We do know he's got to have it done by July 1 when the new state budget is set to take effect.