Monday, February 19, 2018
Politics

Talk of budget turkeys ruffles some feathers

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 [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Associated PressST. PETERSBURG, Russia — While Russian officials scoff at a U.S. indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, several people who worked at the same St. Petersburg, Russia, "troll factory" say t...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Associated PressWEST PALM BEACH — From the confines of his Mar-a-Lago golf club, President Donald Trump offered support Monday for a limited strengthening of federal background checks on gun purchases while staying largely mum in the past few days ab...
Updated: 3 hours ago
For the weary White House, Florida shooting offered a ‘reprieve’ from scandals

For the weary White House, Florida shooting offered a ‘reprieve’ from scandals

The White House was under siege.Domestic abuse allegations against a senior aide were ignored, pointing to a potential high-level coverup. Two Cabinet secretaries were caught chargin taxpayers for luxury travel. A Playboy centerfold alleged an extram...
Updated: 8 hours ago
President Trump expresses support for senators’ gun bill

President Trump expresses support for senators’ gun bill

President Donald Trump signaled support for one piece of gun control legislation on Monday, five days after a mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 people dead and scores injured."The president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Do Trump’s alleged affairs even matter?

Do Trump’s alleged affairs even matter?

One of the quotes from the 2016 presidential campaign that has stuck with me came from an unidentified Donald Trump supporter who shared his appraisal of the "Access Hollywood" tape on an episode of Showtime’s "The Circus."Having heard Trump boast on...
Published: 02/18/18
Survivors of deadly school shooting lash out at Trump

Survivors of deadly school shooting lash out at Trump

PARKLAND, Fla. — Students who escaped the deadly school shooting in Florida focused their anger Sunday at President Donald Trump, contending that his response to the attack has been needlessly divisive. "You're the president. You're supposed t...
Published: 02/18/18
Trump adviser: Russian meddling ‘incontrovertible’

Trump adviser: Russian meddling ‘incontrovertible’

MUNICH — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said Saturday there was "incontrovertible" evidence of a Russian plot to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election, a blunt statement that shows how significantly the new criminal charges leveled by an...
Published: 02/17/18
Prominent Republican donor issues an ultimatum

Prominent Republican donor issues an ultimatum

A prominent Republican political donor demanded on Saturday that the party pass legislation to restrict access to guns, and vowed not to contribute to any candidates or electioneering groups that did not support a ban on the sale of military-style fi...
Published: 02/17/18
Hundreds rally against gun violence in downtown St. Pete

Hundreds rally against gun violence in downtown St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG — A red heart-shaped balloon rose above crowd of several hundred people that had gathered at Williams Park on Saturday evening to mourn Wednesday’s school shooting in Broward County and to protest gun violence.Below the balloon, signs ...
Published: 02/17/18
Divided Congress unable to act on guns, immigration despite public pressure

Divided Congress unable to act on guns, immigration despite public pressure

It’s been five years since the guns and immigration debate collided at the same time on Capitol Hill. This time, the results were even more unproductive.In early 2013, weeks after a gunman killed 20 students and six educators at an elementary school ...
Published: 02/17/18