TALLAHASSEE — A research and advocacy group with close business ties Tuesday recommended that Gov. Rick Scott veto 105 "turkeys" worth $203 million because they were added to Florida's budget after bypassing normal vetting processes or had not been requested by an agency or the governor.
Florida TaxWatch limits its annual turkey list to items with procedural issues regardless of whether their public benefit is questionable.
The organization's president, Dominic Calabro, said he was surprised it was so long because lawmakers have called the upcoming budget year that begins July 1 one of the toughest budget years on record after cutting nearly $4 billion.
Many items listed were in neither the House nor Senate versions of the budget, but added by joint conference committees or by the chambers' budget chiefs, Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.
"There seemed to be political preference over public policy priority," Calabro said at a news conference in Coral Gables.
Scott has promised he'll be vetoing some spending when he signs the $69.7 billion budget into law but hasn't disclosed which items he'll reject. He has until June 1 to act.
Alexander's Polk County has items worth $18 million on the list, including $11 million for projects at the University of South Florida's branch in Lakeland.
In Highlands, Grimsley's home county, the list includes $1.5 million for stormwater work at Sebring's airport and $2.5 million for a firefighting facility at South Florida Community College.
Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who chairs the Senate's budget subcommittee that oversees health and human services spending, issued a statement calling the turkey list "a complete misapprehension of the legislative appropriations process" and a "fading media gimmick."
"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," Negron said.
The biggest turkey is $12 million for a national homeless veterans support group in Brevard County. It's represented by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican who is seeking the GOP U.S. Senate nomination. Also listed is $7.5 million for a public safety institute at Brevard Community College, Haridopolos' former employer.
Orange County, home of House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican, had $38.3 million in turkeys including $19 million in building projects at the University of Central Florida and a $6 million Orange County facility for the University of Florida, Haridopolos' current employer and Cannon's alma mater.
Of the turkey list total, $138 million could have been used for other spending. The remaining $65 million comes from bond proceeds.
The list includes $6.4 million for Pasco-Hernado Community College's Wesley Chapel center, $5 million for the Internal Regatta Sports Center in Pinellas County and $150,000 to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.