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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Charlie Crist approved 'Taj Mahal' courthouse three times

29

September

Gov. Charlie Crist is shocked -- shocked!-- that lawmakers in 2007 slipped money into the Florida budget to build what has become known as the "Taj Mahal," the First District Court of Appeal building. Here's what he told a FOX station in Tampa: "Slipping something like that into the budget -- you know, secretly, essentially -- is always wrong. It's never appropriate."

But wait. Crist's office actually saw the appropriation in 2007 and never raised an objection. His internal records from the Office of Policy & Budget show that the item was attached to...former House Speaker Ray Sansom, the budget chief at the time who was subsequently indicted on alleged wrongdoing in handling the state budget in another matter. The document, nicknamed the "turkey list," explicitly notes a $250,000 appropriation linked to an initial $33.5 million expenditure for the 1st DCA courthouse in HB985, a transportation-related bill.

Crist said he doesn't remember the appropriation in the state budget, but we know he closely reviewed the turkey list in 2007 because he proudly touted record vetoes of $459 million that year. To reach that eye-popping number, Crist used some creative math and counted a tuition fee increase worth $39 million -- even though that number wasn't in the budget document itself. Neither was all the DCA money (just $7.9 million was), incidentally. Yet Crist chose not to veto it. Call that approval number 1.

Incidentally, the man who charged Sansom, Tallahassee prosecutor Willie Meggs, said he's presenting information about the courthouse to a grand jury today. Crist's allies are trying to link the project to former House Speaker Marco Rubio, his U.S. Senate opponent, because he was singled out for thanks in approving the project. But the Senate had a big hand in this. Crist's friend (but not relative) and political ally, Sen. Victor Crist, added the courthouse to HB 985 in the waning days of the session. The First DCA judges, allies of Crist at the time as well, lobbied for the courthouse for years. And FSU, Crist's alma mater, did as well.

"It's pretty conclusive that, if there's something for the judicial branch that comes in under the Department of Transportation, that's not exactly the most transparent place to put it," Crist said yesterday.

But Crist signed HB 985 on June 19, 2007, to make it law. The bill summary mentions the courthouse. Crist could have vetoed that, too. Call that approval number 2.

Crist wasn't done supporting the project -- or at least not objecting to it. On Aug. 12, 2008, he voted for the bond for the courthouse at the State Board of Administration. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum moved to approve it. Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson seconded the motion. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who is now launching an inquiry, seems to have gone along. Call that approval number three.

Said Crist: "Moved and seconded. Show it approved without objection."

Until campaign season, that is.

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[Last modified: Thursday, October 7, 2010 6:32pm]

    

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