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Florida TaxWatch Looks at Funding for Local Water Projects, Offers Recommendations for Improvements

On Thursday, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released “Water Turkeys: Despite Increased Funding for Florida’s Water Resources and the Creation of New Competitive Grants Processes, Local Member Earmarks are Proliferating.”

The report examines the various funding avenues for local water projects and also explains how earmarked projects often bypass these competitive grant programs when they are submitted to the Florida Legislature as “member projects.” FTW concludes by offering recommendations for improving this process, drawing from the government watchdog’s core belief that all taxpayer-funded projects should be subject to proper review, transparency, and accountability standards.

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Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro weighed in on the report.

“Florida is fortunate to have a governor who has prioritized the state’s water resources since his first days in office, from multi-billion-dollar investments in Everglades restoration to the proactive establishment of the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection, with multiple innovative grant programs created along the way,” Calabro said. “And yet, through Florida TaxWatch’s annual Budget Turkey process, we have found that, every year, there are more and more local water projects that are earmarked and submitted as member projects, removed from the coordinated, statewide strategy. In fact, in the current Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget, there are 243 member projects in the single line-item simply called ‘Water Projects,’ contributing to a total 642 local water member projects in the last four years.

“As shown through our recent research focused on resilience, Florida TaxWatch supports these kinds of projects, but we firmly believe that, like all appropriations, they should go through a thoughtful and thorough budget process – or better yet, a competitive grant program. With the publication of our 2023 Budget Turkey Watch Report later this year, we will certainly be taking a close look at all local water projects and reviewing those that are still submitted as member projects with the appropriate level of scrutiny,” he added.

In 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature created the Wastewater Grant Program, which has received $741 million in funding to support local government wastewater projects. In 2021, the Resilient Florida Grant Program was also created to help counties, municipalities, and other eligible entities obtain funding for projects identified in the Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan, allowing them to analyze risks and plan for vulnerabilities. These are just two of the many competitive grant programs and other funding sources that FTW outlines in this report.

According to FTW, the 243 member projects in the “Water Projects” line-item of the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget are valued at $368.4 million, more than triple the previous year’s record dollar amount. Additionally, in the last four years, there have been a total of 642 local member water projects, valued at $641 million.

To mitigate this increase in local water member projects, in past Budget Turkey Watch Reports, FTW has recommended the creation of a competitive grant program, with review and prioritization by experts, for local water projects. However, with the array of funding sources now available, in the 2023 Budget Turkey Watch Report, FTW will consider if more local water projects should have sought funding through these avenues instead.

FTW also presents the idea that the money that would have been appropriated for these local water member projects should be redirected to the appropriate grant pots, requiring all water projects to be subject to competitive selection.


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