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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida TaxWatch bags 107 budget 'turkeys' worth $107 million

Florida TaxWatch finds 107 line-item projects in the new state budget totaling $107 million that it says Gov. Rick Scott should veto because they bypassed the Legislature's own standards for transparency and competitiveness.

The organization said the projects it identified "appear in the budget at the last minute, bypassing the legislatively-established competitive process and receiving little or no public review." The flagged projects have nothing to do with the worthiness of the projects, but rather are a statement about the process lawmakers used to craft the budget.

The projects run the gamut of state spending, from improvements at colleges to programs for the disabled to renovations of historic buildings to museums. Miami-Dade had more projects on the list (18) than any other county. Among the projects that made the TaxWatch list:

* $14 million for a science and technology building at Gulf Coast State College in Bay County.

* $4 million for the Clearwater Aquarium Film Project.

* $2.3 million for IMG Academy, a sports academy in Bradenton.

* 1.5 million for a Dan Marino Jobs Program for Children with Disabilities.

* $1 million for a Black Cultural Tourism Enhancement Commission.

* $1 million for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

TaxWatch, a non-profit tax research group supported by many of the state's largest businesses, also said lawmakers did a better than usual job this year of limiting pork-barrel spending. "We actually think the Legislature showed some restraint," TaxWatch's Kurt Wenner said at a Tallahassee press conference on Thursday.

Many of the projects that made the TaxWatch turkey list are there because they appeared for the first time during the last stage of the budgeting process, during brief conference committee meetings that Wenner said fell far short of what Floridians deserve in terms of government transparency. Conference committee meetings typically ratify in a few minutes budget decisions already hashed out in secret by a handful of legislators.

"Generally, what they consist of is having (budget) offers read," Wenner said. "They are public meetings, but the decisions are not public."

See a video clip of TaxWatch's presenation here

[Last modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 6:27pm]


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