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Report spotlights Florida discretionary projects known as ‘budget turkeys’

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(The Center Square) — A Florida nonprofit organization released a report on Wednesday identifying individual budget appropriations that did not undergo thorough scrutiny by lawmakers.

Florida TaxWatch released its 2024 Budget Turkey Watch Report on Wednesday, which is an independent review of the state’s fiscal year 2024-25 budget.

Former Florida lieutenant governor and Florida TaxWatch executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Kottkamp said during a news conference that the annual budget report holds state lawmakers accountable.

“This annual report promotes additional oversight and integrity of Florida’s budgeting process and is based on the principle that because money appropriated by the Legislature belongs to the taxpayers of Florida, the budget process must be transparent and accountable,” Kottkamp said, adding that every project should receive proper deliberation and public debate.

Projects not following these processes are identified as “Budget Turkeys.” According to the report, 450 of these budget turkeys total $854.6 million. A further $912.2 million worth of projects were identified as needing closer scrutiny from Gov. Ron DeSantis but did not qualify as budget turkeys.

The report notes that there is a proliferation of member projects, and for the third consecutive year, there have been over 1,600 local member projects with a price tag of $2.8 billion.

During the news conference, Kurt Wenner, senior vice president of research at Florida TaxWatch, said 2024 is the fourth year in a row that the Legislature has enjoyed huge budget surpluses generated by record-setting revenue growth.

“The benefit of all this spending has been significant,” Wenner said. “We’ve done historical investments in critical needs like infrastructure, the environment, health care… They’ve been able to do that while still continuing to cut taxes, reduce debt, and maintain sufficient reserves.”

However, Wenner said that budget turkeys and local member projects have gotten somewhat out of hand and noted that most of these are member projects.

“The state is spending a lot of money on local governments, even without member projects, so that raises the question: Should the state be funding these additional member projects that are truly local, especially when they might be more of a luxury than a necessity?” Wenner said.

Wenner said that Florida TaxWatch recommends that if the Legislature continues funding such projects moving forward, they must create more statutorily defined review processes.

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