On Monday, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released its 2021 Budget Turkey Watch Report, an independent review of the state’s FY 2021-22 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. The 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 116 appropriations items worth $157.5 million. 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 they did not appear in either the final Senate or House budget) and/or that it bypassed existing grant and other legislatively established selection processes. It could also mean that the appropriation is duplicative, from inappropriate trust funds, or contingent on legislation that did not pass.
Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., the chairman of the board of FTW, weighed in on the report.
“Watching out for the Florida taxpayer is what TaxWatch does best. The annual Budget Turkey Watch Report provides meaningful guidance to the Governor for his upcoming review of the budget,” LeMieux said.
Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro offered his take on the group’s findings.
“This year in particular, Florida TaxWatch’s 2021 Budget Turkey Watch Report is intended to inform our state’s leaders and decision makers as they work tirelessly to help all Floridians succeed in a post-pandemic society. The vast majority of the $101.5 billion budget will contribute to this effort, and we commend the Legislature for that. There are 116 Budget Turkeys in this year’s budget, but whether they are identified as Turkeys or not, the FY 2021-22 budget still contains 675 member projects worth $560.1 million, a recurring problem that we hope will be curtailed in the future,” Calabro said.
“At Florida TaxWatch, we understand that the budget process must be easily accessible and open to widespread participation in order to establish accountability. The 2021 Budget Turkey Watch Report is our effort to shine a light on member projects that may otherwise have gone unnoticed, without proper public input and debate, and ensure the best interests of Florida taxpayers are being served,” said Florida TaxWatch Senior Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner.
In the report, FTW also outlines recommendations to bolster the integrity of Florida’s budget process. These include establishing competitive selection processes to ensure member projects are funded with a coordinated, statewide vision; prohibiting supplemental funding lists (also known as “sprinkle” lists) – often worth more than $100 million each – that are developed and agreed to in private; and ending repeated earmarking of local transportation projects through legislation that would create a formal process to select and prioritize projects have the highest return on investment and ensure they are considered within the state’s coordinated transportation planning process.
The FY 2021-22 budget includes 115 sprinkle projects totaling $165.5 million in the Senate, and 76 sprinkle projects totaling $182.2 million in the House. This is far fewer projects than the 304 items added last year. While the dollar amount is larger, that is due to significant funding being added to established statewide state government programs. This is especially true in the House, which added $80.7 million to reduce the Agency for Persons with Disabilities Home and Community-Based Care (iBudget) waiver waitlist.