TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A research and advocacy group with close business ties urged Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Friday to veto $149.6 million in spending “turkeys,'' including hometown water projects, college buildings and senior centers that lawmakers added outside the normal budget process or that serve strictly local or private purposes.
Florida TaxWatch also questioned the validity of $21.3 million earmarked for 16 economic development projects, including a rowing center and soccer training, but did not ask for vetoes because they went through some review process and each was approved on one chamber's budget bill.
Instead, TaxWatch is asking that Scott and state economic development officials assess each project to determine what return the state can expect for its investment in terms of jobs and other economic activity.
TaxWatch turkeys often, but not always, are the equivalent of pork barrel projects or earmarks in Congress.
“This is not about waste in government or efficiency per se,'' said TaxWatch president Calabro as he stood next to a stuffed wild turkey at a news conference.
As a result, the list of 143 projects recommended for line-item vetoes does not include $33.5 million to launch a new state university although TaxWatch opposes the project as financially wasteful.
Besides the budget, the Legislature passed a substantive bill that would immediately turn the University of South Florida's polytechnic branch at Lakeland into the state's 12th public university. That would sidestep accreditation and other requirements the Board of Governors had set for the campus before it could gain independence.
Scott last year vetoed $180.9 million of $203 million of TaxWatch's turkeys, or 89 percent. That's the highest percentage in the last decade.
This year's list, totaling $171 million if the economic development projects are included, is still the third-lowest in the past 10 years.
“This Legislature did better than many others across the land,'' Calabro said. Still, lawmakers could have done better, he added.
Calabro also said the list is surprisingly large for another austere budget year. Lawmakers cut $1.4 billion in spending to balance the $70 billion budget.
The biggest turkey on the list is $14 million to build a Public Safety Institute at Brevard Community College, which was not included in either chamber's original budget but added by a joint conference committee. It is a low priority for the state college system and Scott vetoed the project last year as well.
The college once employed Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and it's in his home county.
Some projects were listed because lawmakers bypassed the competitive contracting process. They include $2 million for ARC of Florida, and $1 million each for the Loveland Center in Sarasota and Brevard Achievement Center, which all provide services for disabled people.
Appropriations of $1 million and $500,000 for the Mildred Pepper and Hialeah senior centers were listed because they are private facilities. Also, the Legislature has no process for determining capital needs for senior centers.
Twenty-three local water projects valued at $19 million scattered across the state also made the list because the Department of Environmental Protection never reviewed them to determine their validity.
The economic development projects listed as questionable include $5 million each for a Sarasota rowing center and the Central Florida Life Science Incubator Consortium, $1 million for major league soccer training in central Florida and $150,000 for the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.