2023 Budget Turkey Watch Report

An analysis of the transparency and accountability of the budget process

This is Florida TaxWatch’s annual independent review of Florida’s FY2023-24 budget. The report was started in 1983 to promote oversight and integrity in the state’s budgeting process based on the principle that: because money appropriated by the Legislature belongs to the taxpayers of Florida, the process must be thorough, thoughtful, transparent, and accountable. Every appropriation should receive proper deliberation and public scrutiny. This includes member-requested projects. 

The Budget Turkey label does not signify judgment of a project’s worthiness, but rather identifies appropriations that circumvent transparency and accountability standards in public budgeting (see Budget Turkey Criteria on page 3). Budget Turkeys have become almost exclusively member projects and tend to serve a limited (not statewide) area, are often not core functions of state government, are more appropriately funded with local or private dollars, and can circumvent competitive bidding or selection as well as oversight and accountability.

The $117.0 billion budget passed by the Florida Legislature for FY2023-24 contains 218 appropriations items worth $598.7 million qualifying as Budget Turkeys. In addition to our Budget Turkeys, this report highlights specific line-items that contain projects totaling $1.2 billion that deserve especially close scrutiny by the Governor. (See Additional Groups of Projects that Merit Special Consideration on page 7).

Florida TaxWatch is not recommending that the Governor veto any specific project on the Budget Turkey list. We are providing this report to assist the Governor in his budget deliberations, recommending that he not only consider the value and efficacy of a project, but also if it meets turkey-criteria, if it addresses a core state government function, and if it was selected through a fair process that promotes the best interest of taxpayers statewide.

The 2023-24 budget for the State of Florida contains a record number of member projects—more than 1,540 projects worth approximately $3.2 billion. The amount is even more remarkable when one considers there are 160 legislators. This means each lawmaker was able to secure an average of nearly 10 member projects (called “appropriations projects” by the Legislature) worth an average of $20 million for their home district. 

A relatively small number of member projects are statewide in scope or add additional funding to existing state programs, but the vast majority of them are local projects. Many of those are perhaps worthwhile, some may even fill a critical need, and most are things local citizens would like to have in their communities. But the question remains: “Should the state be funding projects or programs that are purely local, especially projects that are more of a luxury than a necessity?” These are funds that could be used for statewide needs and priorities or even be returned to the taxpayers.

Flush with cash from record state revenue growth and billions in federal aid, the last three legislative sessions have resulted in generational investments in many of those state needs and record-breaking tax relief. It could be argued that some of this windfall should be shared with the state’s local governments. Certainly, there is a case to be made for helping fiscally constrained counties and local communities impacted by hurricanes, but in total, counties experienced similar growth in sales tax revenue as the state, and property taxes never skipped a beat during the pandemic and have increased 26.7 percent over the last three years. Localities also received $3.7 billion in federal aid from the CARES Act and $7.1 billion more from the American Rescue Plan. This is the equivalent of another approximately 40 percent property tax increase for cities, counties, and special districts.

It must also be remembered that the state shares approximately $6 billion from state revenue sources directly with local governments and school districts, and billions of dollars more are sent down to the local level every year through the state budget. This funding is not only for statewide functions such as education, health and human services, and transportation. There are also many grant programs created by the Legislature over the years, that fund some of the same types of projects that member requests do. The difference is these established grant processes are competitive, based on established criteria, and promote statewide coordination and planning.

Adding more local spending through budget earmarks is done at the expense of statewide priorities, core functions, and accountability.

The lack of a systematic review and selection process in some areas of the budget has become a glaring problem. Member projects are peppered throughout the budget, but there are several line-items where numerous projects end up, and the number of projects is increasing. Not that long ago, funding for some of these types of local projects was rare, if they did end up in the budget they often got vetoed. Funding them through the state budget has now become standard. To make sure that these projects are prioritized; funded with a transparent, coordinated, statewide vision; compete for limited funding fairly; and meet specified requirements to qualify for funding, Florida TaxWatch recommends that, if the Legislature is going to fund such projects, it must create a competitive review and selection process in statute for each of these areas:

Water Projects – Line-item 1705A - $433.0 million (the Legislature has created several funding assistance programs for water projects but continues to fund a growing number of projects outside of these grant programs). 

Local Transportation Projects – Line-item 2042A - $400.7 million

Housing and Community Development Projects – Line-item 2336A/2341A - $118.0 million

School and Instructional Enhancements – Line-item 100/119 - $45.6 million

Private College and University Projects – Line-item 58/59A - $42.2 million

Special Local Law Enforcement Projects – Line-item 1275/1281A - $90.8 million

Local Fire Service – Line-item 2479/2485A - $86.4 million

Economic Development Projects – Line-item 2350A - $7.4 million

Local Emergency Management Programs and Facilities – Line-item 2681/2710 - $94.3 million

Workforce Projects – Line-item 2297/2304A - $11.9 million

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