Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Talk of budget turkeys ruffles some feathers

Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro brings out his giant stuffed bird for the organization’s post-legislative selection of “turkeys” from the budget passed in Tallahassee in 2007.

Associated Press (2007)

Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro brings out his giant stuffed bird for the organization’s post-legislative selection of “turkeys” from the budget passed in Tallahassee in 2007.

For the past three decades, Florida TaxWatch has been a self-appointed fiscal watchdog, blowing the whistle on what it considers wasteful pork-barrel spending by the Legislature.

Any day now, TaxWatch will release its annual list of questionable "turkeys" in the 2013-14 budget that awaits Gov. Rick Scott's signature. You can bet that more than a few will be from Tampa Bay.

But TaxWatch president Dominic Calabro sounded Monday like a man who went hunting for turkeys and didn't find as many as he'd hoped.

"We think they did a very good job overall, but there are some things we've got some questions about," he said.

By Calabro's admission, TaxWatch's review is imperfect and subjective, and a lot of people don't like TaxWatch, which is backed by business interests. But other than the Capitol press, nobody else goes through the more than 400-page budget, line by line, to look for questionable spending.

This is a year of abundant new money, enough that lawmakers are able to sock away $2.8 billion in emergency cash reserves and still find hundreds of millions of dollars for hometown projects.

To Sen. Joe Negron, who co-wrote the new $74.5 billion budget, TaxWatch's annual turkey shoot is "hackneyed" and a "media gimmick" that has outlived its usefulness.

Negron is so tired of TaxWatch that he called out the group by name in the recent session, challenging the criteria TaxWatch uses to red-flag what it sees as suspect spending.

What ticks off Negron, R-Stuart, is that TaxWatch calls turkeys spending items that surfaced for the first time in the budget conference committee stage, when decisions are made by a handful of lawmakers late in the session and often late at night or on weekends.

Calabro said a spending item that appears for the first time at the last minute is a "big, big red flag" that should attract Scott's veto pen. "How can we hold it accountable?"

Calabro said a project that may make TaxWatch's list benefits a group on whose board he sits (he wouldn't identify the group).

Negron will remind anyone within earshot that the Legislature has the constitutional responsibility to appropriate money.

"We're the closest to the people and we have an obligation to defend our projects," Negron said.

On the next-to-last day of the session, Negron urged senators to push back against a perception that the budget contains wasteful pork. To make his point, he cited two big drainage projects in the impoverished city of Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County.

Negron also disagrees with TaxWatch that a project is suspect if it's not recommended by an agency. Bureaucrats do not deserve a "presumption of correctness" that's denied to elected legislators, he argues.

Calabro disagrees.

"State agencies have statewide constitutional and statutory authority to prioritize the needs of the people of Florida," Calabro said.

Contact Steve Bousquet at or (850) 224-7263.

Talk of budget turkeys ruffles some feathers 05/13/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 13, 2013 11:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays are full of ideas they'd like to share when commissioner visits

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Commissioner Rob Manfred is coming to the Trop today. Hmm. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg will be there to greet him. Hmmmm. And they have a scheduled joint media session. Hmmmmmmmmm.

    Commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t expected to say anything definitive about the Rays’ stadium situation when he visits the team today.
  2. Mayor Rick Kriseman endorsed by another police union


    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman is already backed by the city's largest police union, the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman has secured another police union endorsement
  3. Drinking alcohol on St. Pete beaches now allowed — for hotel guests only

    Local Government

    ST. PETE BEACH — Guests at gulffront hotels here can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas.

    Guests relax on the beach near the Don Cesar at St. Pete Beach. Guests at gulf-front hotels in St. Pete Beach can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas after the change was passed unanimously by the City Commission Tuesday night. Residents and other beachgoers who are not registered guests of the hotels continue to be barred from imbibing anywhere on the city's beaches.
  4. Man found floating in 'Cotee River in New Port Richey

    Public Safety

    NEW PORT RICHEY — A body was found floating in the Pithlachascotee River on Tuesday morning, police said.

  5. More than 13,000 fact-checks later, PolitiFact celebrates 10-year mark


    ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Adair still remembers the moment when he realized his idea to fact-check politicians could turn into something big.

    From left, Aaron Sharockman, PolitiFact executive director, introduces a panel featuring Angie Holan, PolitiFact editor; PolitiFact founder Bill Adair; and Neil Brown, Tampa Bay Times editor and vice president, at the Poynter Institute on Tuesday.