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Local Projects, Programs Spread Through New State Budget

Florida's Capitol buildings
The News Service of Florida
Florida's Capitol buildings

Scattered throughout a $93.2 billion budget set to go before the House and Senate on Thursday are more than 750 line items --- collectively exceeding $400 million --- tied to proposals lawmakers filed months ago to bring money to regions they represent.

The proposals, which are in the newly negotiated budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, offer money for water-improvement projects, schools, roads, law enforcement, courts and social-service organizations. But critics deride such spending as pork, fiscal fat that can be cut --- or “turkeys” in a Tallahassee term.

House members file bills each year to put the proposals in play, while senators file forms requesting money. The new batch of spending was included in a budget that House and Senate leaders finished negotiating Saturday, with lawmakers coming back to Tallahassee on Thursday to sign off on it.

A program for homeless youth in Miami, for example, is slated to get $200,000. Home delivered meals by the Northeast Florida Area Agency on Aging would receive $400,000.

The spending plan includes $275,000 to improve the courthouse and jail security in Union County. The Pulse Memorial & Museum in Orlando is expected to get $680,000. Digitizing the archives at the Harry S. Truman Little White House in Key West is up for $250,000. Hardening the Fort Walton Beach Recreation Center is set for $200,000.

As budget negotiations wrapped up, Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said he was “proud” of the funding, declaring the projects “appropriate.”

“It’s very natural during such a negotiation to set a little bit of money aside, which is a very, very small, less than a percent of the overall total, to make sure that certain things that might have been missed along the way, are dealt with and handled for the good of the people,” Bradley said.

House Appropriations Chairman Travis Cummings, R-Fleming Island, said the money is spread toward health care, education, infrastructure and environmental issues.

“Clearly, I think whether it’s members or special interest groups, from an association on disabilities, Alzheimer’s or universities, they speak with the presiding officers, they may let us know that there were things they feel the budget had not reflected and they wanted consideration,” Cummings said.

Both denied there is a link between the projects and campaign donations.

As the session got underway, House members filed 1,624 separate bills seeking nearly $2.3 billion to bring back home. The House required many of the requests to appear before at least one committee for public airings, even if the process only took a minute or two for many of the bills.

Senators filled out 1,580 appropriations forms that called for almost $2.5 billion in funding.

In Tallahassee, the phrase “turkey” is highlighted by Florida TaxWatch, which in the coming weeks will lay out a “turkey” list of spending they encourage Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto.

The non-profit organization says it is more focused on the process of how projects and programs get funded, rather than the merits. At least in part, TaxWatch targets money for projects and programs that circumvented the legislative process.

“Money appropriated by the Legislature belongs to the taxpayers of Florida, so the process must be transparent and accountable, and every appropriation should receive deliberation and debate,” TaxWatch says on its website.

DeSantis, who has line-item veto power to scratch out portions of the budget, slash more than 160 proposals last year, totaling $130 million. That left the state's current operating budget with about $270 million for 440 local projects and programs.

In considering local projects, DeSantis said he wanted to see if there was a “real connection to an overall state policy.”

“There were in some instances,” DeSantis said when he signed the 2019-2020 budget in June. “We were very supportive of a lot of water projects throughout the state because I think that’s reinforcing my overall policy.”

But DeSantis said, for example, if he approved money to refurbish a local emergency operations center, which he considered “more of a county function,” the state might have to do the same for others.