TALLAHASSEE — Even in a drastically lean budget year, Florida lawmakers can't get enough turkey.
A watchdog group on Friday identified $110.5-million in pet projects, or "turkeys," that it says Gov. Charlie Crist should veto. Nearly $10-million of it is earmarked for the Tampa Bay region.
"The story here is that a $6-billion budget reduction, which will significantly affect many basic functions of state government, only reduced the prevalence of budget turkeys but did not stop them outright," said Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch.
The group singled out 133 projects and noted that they came despite cuts of $322-million from public schools and $164-million less for nursing homes, among many other reductions. The biggest project: $18.5-million for a community college science and technology center in St. Lucie County, home of Senate President Ken Pruitt.
On Friday, Crist received the $66.2-billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. He has 15 days to exercise his line-item veto.
Topping the turkey list in Tampa Bay: $5-million for an as-of-yet unidentified economic development project in Pasco County. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, added it to the budget during negotiations late in the spring session.
"I respectfully disagree," Fasano said. "The tax dollars would go a long way in creating jobs and helping the economy in the Tampa Bay area."
Another big item on the list is $2-million to help pay operating costs of the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority. The money, taken from a transportation trust fund, was not part of the state Transportation Department's work plan.
Other local projects deemed turkeys: $1.1-million for an emergency shelter in Hernando County and $125,000 for the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.
One conspicuous omission on TaxWatch's list is $2.5-million for a St. Petersburg College institute that will be named for and may eventually be led by U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores.
TaxWatch said the turkey label does not necessarily mean a project does not have value. Rather, it criticizes items that have not been fully vetted in the legislative process. Calabro said the money for the Young institute did not qualify because it was part of Crist's budget recommendations, meaning it was open to scrutiny from lawmakers during the 60-day session that ended in May.