2019 Budget Turkey Watch Report
An analysis of the transparency and accountability of the budget process
The 2019 Budget Turkey Watch Report: An Analysis of the Transparency and Accountability of the Budget Process is the result of an annual independent review of Florida’s new budget by Florida TaxWatch. The report started in 1983, and having been published annually since 1986, promotes additional 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 transparent and accountable, and every appropriation should receive deliberation and public debate. The budget review identifies appropriations that circumvent transparency and accountability standards in public budgeting.
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 process. The Budget Turkey label does not signify 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 public funds receive the deliberation, debate, and accountability they deserve. While a project may be worthwhile, Budget Turkeys tend to serve a limited (not statewide) area, are often not core functions of government, are more appropriately funded with local or private dollars, and can circumvent competitive bidding or selection and oversight and accountability.
The Florida governor’s line-item veto authority is a protection afforded by the Florida Constitution as one of the checks and balances that allows 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 $91.1 billion budget passed by the Florida House and Senate for FY2019-20 contains 109 appropriations items worth $133.0 million qualifying as Budget Turkeys. This year, Florida TaxWatch allowed for more legislative flexibility in hurricane recovery-related projects.
The appropriations project rules adopted two years ago have reduced the number of Budget Turkeys. Each House member project requires a bill to be approved by an appropriations subcommittee and the Senate requires a member request form. The House bill and Senate form numbers appear alongside the project in the budget, clearly identifying them as member projects. This has greatly reduced the number of items being added to the budget for the first time during the budget conference committee process, in fact the joint rules of the Legislature prohibit it. Projects added during the conference used to comprise a significant percentage of Budget Turkeys.