Statutory Competitive Selection Processes – 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 one can count on numerous projects ending up. Of course, this year, there is a record number of projects and funding.
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 creates a competitive review and selection process in statute for each of these areas:
- Water Projects – Line-item 1705A - $433.0 million
- 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 Facilities – Line-item 2681/2710 - $94.3 million
- Workforce Projects – Line-item 2297/2304A - $11.9 million
Supplemental Funding Lists (“Sprinkle Lists”) – It has become routine for the budget conference process to end with each chamber accepting the other chamber’s supplemental funding lists worth more than $100 million each. This is done without public debate or discussion and the lists have been developed and agreed to in private. The lists include increased funding for some projects already in the budget and can also introduce new projects or add back projects that conferees agreed to remove, sometimes including items that had not been discussed before. Like many things in this year’s budget, the sprinkle lists grew to (by far) record size. This year, the two lists totaled $670 Million. Soon after the budget was passed, Florida TaxWatch released a report recommending that the Governor look closely at these projects during his veto deliberations. The report also highlighted 38 projects, worth $53.3 million, that were removed from the budget during conference negotiations, only to be added back at the last minute through the sprinkle lists.
Local Transportation Projects – Historically, almost every project in this line-item has been put on the Budget Turkey list. This is because these projects circumvent the process that develops the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) Work Program and since they are usually funded by the State Transportation Trust Fund (STTF), they take limited transportation dollars away from the vetted and comprehensively planned projects that are in the Work Program.
In our past Budget Turkey reports, Florida TaxWatch has urged the Legislature, if they choose to continue funding these local member projects, to use general revenue to avoid impacting the Work Program. Florida TaxWatch commends the 2022 and 2023 Legislatures for heeding our recommendation and using GR to fund the entire list of projects. However, that recommendation was based on the normal funding level of tens of millions of dollars, not the nearly one-half billion dollars that has been appropriated in both this year and last year’s budgets. This is far too many projects to fund without a statutorily established competitive selection process (see our recommendations later in this report.) Moreover, when the surplus of general revenue the Legislature has been enjoying the last couple of years returns to normal levels, it is likely the STTF will be used to continue funding local member transportation projects. This year, because these projects do not negatively impact the Work Program, they are not on the Budget Turkey list (with the exception of three mentioned above that were removed from the budget during conference, only to be added-back by the sprinkle lists). Still, we expect there are many projects in this line-item that warrant special veto consideration.