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On Thursday, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released its “2022 Budget Turkey Watch Report,” an independent review of the state’s Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget.

Since 1983, FTW has provided Floridians with­­ this additional level of oversight that identifies individual appropriations that circumvent a thoughtful and thorough budget process. FTW noted that this annual practice is based on the principle that, because funds appropriated by the Legislature belong to Florida taxpayers, the process must be transparent and accountable, and every appropriation should receive proper deliberation and public debate.

This year’s review has identified 166 appropriations items worth $281 million. To be clear, the Budget Turkey label does not signify judgement of a project’s worthiness. Rather, it indicates that an appropriation was inserted in the budget during conference committee meetings (meaning it did not appear in either the final Senate or House budget), added back to the budget through the supplemental appropriations (“sprinkle”) lists, it bypassed existing grant and other legislatively established selection processes, and/or it may be duplicative, derived from inappropriate trust funds, or contingent on legislation that did not pass.

In addition to the 166 appropriation items specifically designated as Budget Turkeys, FTW is also recommending that Gov. Ron DeSantis provide “special scrutiny” to more than $2 billion in member projects that did not qualify as Budget Turkeys because they followed the appropriations projects rules. Budget Turkeys and member projects are frequently flagged for review because they often do not serve a statewide purpose or align with a core function of state government.

Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., the chairman of the board of FTW, weighed in on Thursday.

“As Florida’s taxpayer advocate, Florida TaxWatch points out when government gets it wrong. This year, the Florida Legislature got it mostly right. Hats off to Senate President Simpson and House Speaker Sprowls for being good stewards of the people’s money. For us Budget Turkey hunters, it was a lean year,” LeMieux said.

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro also spoke about the report.

“Florida TaxWatch is pleased to present the 2022 Budget Turkey Watch Report, as it shows the legislature has heeded many of the thoughtful recommendations we’ve provided on behalf of taxpayers over the years. However, there are more than 1,200 member projects – worth $2.8 billion – in this budget, and while they don’t always meet Budget Turkey criteria, their considerable value still gives us pause because it’s equivalent to the combined total spent on member projects over the last five years. We’re hopeful Governor DeSantis will carefully scrutinize these projects when applying his line-item veto power to strike appropriations from the budget,” Calabro said.

Florida TaxWatch Senior Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner said, “This year, many member projects have historically high price tags. Florida TaxWatch found that 17 of the 1,221 member projects in the budget cost at least $25 million, seven cost more than $50 million, and three topped $100 million – for comparison, these projects are usually less than $1 million and those over $10 million are rare. What’s more, when deliberating vetoes, the Governor should pay close attention to the member projects in areas that have been problematic in the past, including local transportation projects, water projects, and non-state capital projects, among others.”

In the report, FTW outlines recommendations to bolster the integrity of Florida’s budget process, while stabilizing the proliferation of member projects. These include creating a competitive review and selection process in statute for each of the 10 areas that have historically encompassed member projects; discontinuing the sprinkle lists; and ending the earmarking of local transportation projects to provide for a process that will ensure those with the highest return of investment are considered within the state’s coordinated transportation planning process.

FTW also notes that the FY 2022-23 budget includes 161 sprinkle projects totaling $511.8 million in the Senate and 62 sprinkle projects totaling $257.1 million in the House, with all developed and agreed to in private.

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