Florida TaxWatch issued its 2018 “Turkey” Report today, April 5.
A term created by Florida TaxWatch, Budget Turkeys are items–usually local member projects–placed in individual line-items or accompanying proviso language that are added to the final appropriations bill without being fully scrutinized and subjected to the budget committee process or that circumvented established processes.
Florida TaxWatch explained that the “Budget Turkey” label does not signify judgment of a project’s worthiness. Instead, the review focuses solely on the Florida budget process, while the purpose of the Budget Turkey label is to ensure that all appropriations using public funds receive the deliberation, debate, and accountability they deserve.
The $88.7 billion State Budget passed by the Florida House and Senate for FY 2018-2019 contains 87 appropriations items qualifying as Budget Turkeys worth $147.5 million. Most of these (56 projects worth almost $120 million) are transportation projects that are not in the Department of Transportation Work Program.
Because appropriations rules adopted last year resulted in House member projects being heard in committee, and no projects being added during the budget conference committee process, many member projects in the budget do not qualify as Budget Turkeys, Florida TaxWatch said. So, while the new rules have (relatively) limited the number of turkeys, it has not limited member projects. This year’s Budget contains 517 member projects worth more than $560 million. This brings the two-year total (since the rules were adopted) to more than 1200 members projects worth $1.2 billion
Self-described as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog for more than one third of a century (since 1979), the mission of Florida TaxWatch is to improve the productivity and accountability of Florida government. Its research recommends productivity enhancements and explains the statewide impact of fiscal and economic policies and practices on citizens and businesses.
Florida TaxWatch is supported by voluntary, tax-deductible donations and private grants, and does not accept government funding.
About the “Turkeys” Research
Budget Turkeys are individual appropriations that circumvent a thoughtful and thorough budget process. The Budget Turkey Report protects and enhances the integrity of the state’s budgeting system. 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.
The “Budget Turkey” label does not signify a judgment of a project’s worthiness. Instead, the review focuses on the Florida budget process, and the purpose of the “Budget Turkey” label is to ensure that all appropriations using tax dollars are subject to scrutiny. Florida TaxWatch recognizes that the creation of a $77+ billion budget is a challenging task, and that each year our Budget Turkey Report consists of only a very small percentage of the state budget – approximately one-quarter of one percent of all expenditures in 2015.
However, TaxWatch will continue to identify projects circumventing a Republican budgeting process in an effort to increase transparency in public budgeting, encourage meaningful review of all appropriations, and provide Florida taxpayers with the information they need to hold their elected officials accountable.
Protecting the Taxpayers
Florida TaxWatch identifies Budget Turkeys to promote transparency in public budgeting, encourage meaningful legislative review of all appropriations, and facilitate the checks and balances within the budget process that are granted by the Constitution.
1. Promote Transparency in Public Budgeting
Projects first appearing in the budget process during conference are identified by Florida TaxWatch to expose the lack of transparency that occurs during the conference process. Projects that are added during conference are added to the budget without public debate, scrutiny, or legislative vote—even by those Legislators who sit on the conference committees.
2. Encourage Meaningful Legislative Review of All Appropriations
All appropriations should be subject to adequate public review, debate, and scrutiny, which requires that all legislators review proposed appropriations. When projects are added during conference, they have bypassed the normal appropriations subcommittee and committee process. The only legislators that have the ability to publicly vet these expenditures to any degree are those who sit on conference committees, shielding those appropriations from scrutiny by every member.
After the conference process, the full legislative body cannot adjust individual appropriations, they can only vote the entire budget up or down. Because the relative amount of total appropriations added in conference is such a small percentage of the Florida budget, few, if any, lawmakers will vote the budget down because of projects added in conference.
3. Facilitate the Checks and Balances Within the Budget Process that are Granted by the Constitution
The Florida Governor’s line-item veto power is a protection afforded by the Florida Constitution as one of the checks and balances that allow for proper distribution of power in state government. However, another crucial element is the right and responsibility of Florida taxpayers to hold their elected officials accountable for budgeting decisions. Though all budget documents are available to the public, the complicated budget process creates a barrier that prevents all taxpayers from understanding this information. The Budget Turkey Report is intended to show taxpayers the result of this complicated process, where not all decisions are made in the sunshine.
The Budget Turkey criteria are clearly defined. These projects must violate sound budgeting practices in at least one of these ways to be designated as a Budget Turkey.
- A project that circumvents established review and selection processes or has completed the established process but is funded ahead of higher priority projects (as determined by the process). Examples of projects that have an established budget review process include: the transportation work program, education facilities construction (PECO), local parks (FRDAP), aquaculture, beach renourishment, and historical preservation, arts and cultural grants.
- Appropriations that are inserted in the budget during conference committee deliberations, meaning they did not appear in either of the final Senate or House budgets.
- Appropriations from inappropriate trust funds; duplicative appropriations; and appropriations contingent on legislation that did not pass.