Senators shoot back at Florida TaxWatch

400-FLORIDA-TAXWATCH-TURKEYFlorida TaxWatch urged Governor Rick Scott to veto 107 budget items Thursday, including three in St Augustine, but top Florida Senate leaders said the policy-study organization’s annual list of financial “turkeys” is a worn-out publicity gimmick — intended more to get publicity for TaxWatch than to safeguard the taxpayers’ money.

“It’s completely unpersuasive and has zero credibility,” Sen. Joe Negron, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said of the annual TaxWatch turkey list. “It’s just a tired media gimmick, a lame attempt to keep some relevance in Tallahassee.”
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, was even more blunt.

“The TaxWatch list is built on the unconstitutional perversion that if an appropriation isn’t recommended by unelected agency officials, it shouldn’t be considered in conference by elected legislators,” said Gaetz. “This is an arrogance of the elite who spend too much time in Tallahassee and Washington listening to the echoes of their own invented wisdom and thinking they’re hearing the voice of God.”

Most years, the TaxWatch turkey list is greeted with polite thanks from public officials, who don’t necessarily agree with every item but generally acknowledge the private policy-study group does its homework. This year, TaxWatch went through the record $74.5 billion spending bill and questioned 107 items totaling $106.8 million — down considerably from the 159 “member projects” and other questionable items TaxWatch had flagged last year.

This year’s items ranged from $1 million for the Bay of Pigs Museum in Miami and half that amount for the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in Broward County to $9 million for construction of laboratory space at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and $14 million in trust funds for Gulf Coast State College to build a science, technology, engineering and math facility.

The three local state budget items to make the list are:

$750,000 for restoration of City Hall and Lightner Museum
$400,000 for renovation of the dining hall at Flagler College
$300,000 for restoration at the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum

At a news conference yesterday, TaxWatch vice presidents Kurt Wenner and Robert Weissert said that governors have vetoed more than $2 billion in projects that their organization had highlighted over the past 27 years. They said legislators showed a tendency to stuff turkeys into three general areas of the budget — economic development, water projects, and school or instructional enhancement.

It’s not the relative value of the projects that gets them on the turkey list, but the way they pop into the budget — often in the final days of the session, when House and Senate budget negotiations are going on, largely out of public sight.

Photo credits: © 2013 Historic City News archive photograph Bill Cotterell – Florida Current

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