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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Negron defends budget against and calls TaxWatch turkeys a gimmick

In a potently worded statement Sen. Joe Negron, the Senate's budget vice chairman, today blasted the annual turkeys list released by Florida TaxWatch  as a "faded media gimmick." TaxWatch identified $203 million in projects that failed to go through the proper process to justify being added to the state budget. It noted: "The 'budget turkey' label does not condemn a project’s worthiness, but instead focuses on the budget process, including instances where the Legislature has not followed its own policies and procedures to ensure the highest standards of accountability and government efficiency."

But Negron vigorously defended the legislative branch in what is the annual tug and pull between the two co-equal branches. He even cited names of people who will benefit from the legislatively-approved allocations and chided TaxWatch for anointing the executive branch with a "presumption of correctionness."

Negron's note, however, is absent a defense of the process by which legislators approve these budget items. While TaxWatch commends items that go through a lengthy review and planning process, the legislature often inserts items into the budget in backroom staff offices out of the sunshine. This year, legislative leaders left so little room to debate the budget on the final day that there was little open debate about the many projects that appeared in the document for the first time during the final week.

Here's Negron's full statement:

Today’s Florida TaxWatch Turkey List exposes a complete misapprehension of the legislative appropriations process.  This hackneyed annual list of ostensible “turkeys” and “pork” is based on the mistaken rationale that budget decisions originating from the executive branch come clothed with a presumption of correctness while ideas from the elected representatives of the people should be viewed with suspicion.

             Let’s take a closer look at the criteria TaxWatch uses to reach its opinion that $203 million in the 2011-12 state budget represent “turkeys”.  TaxWatch charges that a funding item was “not requested by agency”, “not on PECO list”, “not in DOT work program” or “added in conference”.

             TaxWatch’s deference to the executive branch is entirely misplaced.  Under the Florida Constitution, the Legislature has the exclusive authority to budget.  The Governor can veto a budget line item, but the executive branch cannot spend one dime of the people’s money without the express authorization of the Legislature.  Likewise, “added in conference” is a flimsy basis to disparage a budget expenditure.  The conference process is a meaningful and significant component of the appropriations enterprise.  Conference provides an open and transparent opportunity for the House and Senate to negotiate an agreed upon budget and to take a concluding look at the Appropriations Act to determine final priorities.  Many proposed funding items are reduced or eliminated during this review process.

             TaxWatch calls $500,000 appropriated for the Loveland Center in Sarasota County a “turkey” because it was “not requested by an agency”.  That is true.  It was, however, requested by Senator Nancy Detert, who was actually elected by her constituents to write the state budget.  The Loveland Center offers adult day training, supported living and group home services to adults with severe developmental disabilities.  I know – I’ve been to the Loveland Center myself to observe and admire the 125 students who overcome their disabilities and participate fully in community life, including working at businesses from Siesta Key to Englewood.

             Try telling Marc Buoniconti or the thousands of Floridians confined to wheel chairs and the dozens who will show up at emergency rooms this week with spinal cord injuries that the money appropriated to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis is a “turkey”.  Marc suffered a devastating spinal cord injury during a college football game and responded by co-founding the Miami Project, the world’s most comprehensive spinal cord injury research center, where promising clinical trials are underway to find cures that will one day alleviate the multiple consequences of injury. 

             I am proud of Florida’s balanced budget, which reflects the Legislature’s thoughtful judgment and principled commitment to live within our means, the same way families and businesses do.  Thankfully, the Legislature has not funded every project “requested by the agency” through the years or the taxpayers we represent would have been saddled with billions of dollars of unwise spending.  The Florida TaxWatch Turkey List is a fading media gimmick that crumbles under constitutional scrutiny.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 3:12pm]


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