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Florida TaxWatch Releases 2020 Budget Turkey Watch Report

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released the 2020 Budget Turkey Watch Report: An analysis of the transparency and accountability of the budget process, its annual independent review of the state’s budget. The report, which has been released annually since 1986, promotes additional oversight and integrity in Florida’s budgeting process and is based on the principle that because money appropriated by the legislature belongs to the taxpayers of Florida, the process must be transparent and accountable, and every appropriation should receive proper deliberation and public debate. This year’s Budget Turkey Watch Report also highlights the particularly important need to scrutinize the entire budget, in the context of the uncertain fiscal environment created by COVID-19.

The $93.2 billion budget passed by the Florida Legislature for FY2020-21 contains 180 appropriations items qualifying as Budget Turkeys worth $136.3 million. While, the appropriations project rules adopted four years ago have reduced the number of Budget Turkeys, they have not limited member projects. This year’s budget contains a record 829 member projects in the budget worth more than $500 million. In addition to recommending a veto of Budget Turkeys, FTW also recommends the Governor apply a strict standard to all member projects and veto those which do not provide a significant positive return for taxpayers. The report also offers recommendations to stem the tide of member projects. 

Chairman of Florida TaxWatch and former Florida Senator Pat Neal said, “During these unprecedented times, Florida TaxWatch’s Budget Turkey Watch Report serves as an invaluable resource for Florida’s leaders to guide our state forward and maintain the fiscal accountability our families and taxpayers rightly deserve. As COVID-19 continues to make a serious impact on Florida’s economy, the analysis provided by this report is a strong testament to Florida TaxWatch’s dedication and well-established role as a tireless watchdog and guide dog for the Sunshine State.”

Budget Turkeys are often local member projects, placed in the final appropriations bill without being scrutinized and subjected to the budget committee process, or that circumvented existing grant and other legislatively established selection processes. The Budget Turkey label does not signify judgment of a project’s worthiness. Instead, the review focuses solely on the integrity, accountability, and transparency of the legislatively established budget process. The goal of which is to ensure that all appropriations of hard-earned taxpayer money achieves its intended public benefit. Since 1986, both Republican and Democratic governors have vetoed more than $3 billion in projects identified by FTW as Budget Turkeys.

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said, “Since our founding in 1979, Florida TaxWatch has proudly served as our state’s trusted government watchdog and fiscal policy leader, providing Florida’s leaders thoughtful recommendations to secure enduring fiscal accountability and strength for the Sunshine State even through its darkest days. Throughout Florida’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, TaxWatch has remained dedicated to this role and provided ongoing analysis of COVID’s economic impacts and our government’s response to this crisis. We continue that important work today with the release of the 2020 Budget Turkey Watch Report. We will never stop fighting for the taxpayers of Florida and look forward to working with Governor DeSantis and our state leaders to implement these measures, increase accountability for every tax dollar spent, and ensure the greatest possible return on investment for Florida families.”

Another concerning issue identified in the 2020 Budget Turkey Watch Report is the increasing use of supplemental appropriations lists during this year’s budget process. These lists, which are referred to as “sprinkle lists,” surface and are approved at the last minute with no discussion. As they were in 2019, this year’s “sprinkle lists” were record in the number of items they contained. The Senate list contained 170 items worth $129.5 million. The House funded 134 items worth $137.4 million. This means $267 million in hard-earned taxpayer dollars were spent as almost an afterthought, after all the various budget areas had been “closed-out.”

In addition, the appropriations project rules had nearly eliminated the practice of adding member projects to the budget during the conference process. However, this session there were 12 items added in conference, the most since the rules were adopted. A number of projects that were removed from the budget during conference, were added back through the sprinkle lists. FTW sincerely hopes this is not a sign of returning to old ways of budgeting.

Florida TaxWatch Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner said, “In 2020, Florida’s budget process was again subject to a record number of member projects with 829 included in the final General Appropriations Act and saw ‘sprinkle lists’ hit new highs in the number of items they contained at 304. Reigning in this spending is a critical issue every year and now, as Florida faces an uncertain economic landscape due to the impacts of COVID-19, the need for strict scrutiny by Governor DeSantis is even more important. The recommendations put forward in Florida TaxWatch’s 2020 Budget Turkey Watch Report will help ensure Florida is better positioned for FY2020-21.”

Please click here for the 2020 Budget Turkey Watch Report and recommendations for Florida's budget process.

About Florida TaxWatch
As an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog and taxpayer research institute for more than forty years and the trusted eyes and ears of Florida taxpayers, Florida TaxWatch works 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 its membership via voluntary, tax-deductible donations and private grants, and does not accept government funding. Donations provide a solid, lasting foundation that has enabled Florida TaxWatch to bring about a more effective, responsive government that is more accountable to, and productive for, the citizens it serves since 1979. For more information, please visit www.floridataxwatch.org.

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