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Chiles urged to carve pork out of the budget

Gov. Lawton Chiles should veto an "unprecedented and unbelieveable" $348.3-million in pork barrel projects and call a special legislative session to reallocate the money, a watchdog group said Tuesday.

"The fiscal discipline over the budget process has clearly gone awry," said Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, the public interest group that reviews the budget annually for lawmakers' pet projects or "turkeys"

Flush with cash from higher-than-expected tax revenues, the Legislature stuffed the $45.3-billion budget for 1998-99 with a record number of projects to impress the folks back home.

The bloated budget has become a sore point for the Republican-controlled Legislature, which preaches lower taxes, less government and frugal spending.

"The number of budget turkeys in this year's state budget is both unprecedented and unbelievable, " Calabro said.

The turkey list has ranged from 0 in 1991 to $150-million in 1988, according to TaxWatch reviews.

TaxWatch identified 463 projects this year _ $266.4-million in "probable" turkeys and another $81.9-million in "possible" turkeys. It didn't have time to make a final determination on every project and urged Chiles to veto them all.

The Legislature was on a fast track to get the budget passed this year, forcing the governor to issue vetoes so lawmakers could override before adjourning Friday.

Chiles has until 11:59 p.m. today to make veto decisions. But if he irritates lawmakers with vetoes, they might not approve his priorities, such as health care for thousands of children. And he must navigate party and racial politics, being mindful of the fact that cutting too many projects black lawmakers want could push them further toward Republicans, who have been wooing them.

Governor's spokesman Ryan Banfill said Tuesday that Chiles "respects TaxWatch and respects the job they do." However, "he will do his own analysis and make his own decisions."

Most lawmakers scoffed Tuesday at the idea of special session.

House Speaker Daniel Webster said the House has a public process in which members go before a committee to explain their pet projects. "We openly and honestly debated them. If TaxWatch had some objection, they should have shown up to object."

Senate Republican Leader Locke Burt complained, "Everything Dominic Calabro says is a turkey isn't a turkey."

Among other criteria, TaxWatch defines turkeys as projects that are not properly evaluated by the governor's office, a state agency or a legislative committee; that subsidize private groups that could get private dollars; that benefit special interests or local groups, not the whole state.

TaxWatch found $102.5-million in projects that neither the full House nor Senate approved. The projects showed up as lawmakers negotiated a final budget.

The turkey list includes $11.3-million for an auditorium for the Clay County School Board and a local community college pushed by Rep. John Thrasher, slated to become the next House speaker.

Also on the list: a $100,000 technology project called Angels Helping Hands pushed by Senate President Toni Jennings, and $1-million for a University of South Florida and St. Petersburg Junior College joint project, a top priority of Senate Ways and Means Chairman Don Sullivan, R-Seminole.

There are fairs and festivals, including $952,000 for the Manatee County Fair. There are community centers such as the Spring Hill Center ($11,500) and a cultural and community center for Temple Terrace for $300,000.

There is a Tampa downtown "choice" elementary school for $300,000, a $50,000 Hudson Channel dredging project in Pasco County and a $700,000 wastewater treatment system in Bushnell.

Sullivan has been concerned about all the pet projects this year, calling TaxWatch's call for a special session "an interesting proposal."

STUFFED WITH TURKEYS

Florida TaxWatch says the turkeys, or pork-barrel projects, in Florida's $45.3-billion budget for 1998-99 have reached a historic high. Here are the turkeys in budgets the Legislature has approved over the last 15 years+:

Year Turkeys Cost

1983 70 $111.2-million

1986 21 $20-million

1987 43 $100-million

1988 91 $150-million

1989 342 $125-million

1990 401 $112-million

1991 0 0

1993 22 $33.7-million

1994 60 $43.8-million

1995 42 $36.5-million

1996 45 $31.6-million

1997 49 $51.3-million

1998 463 $348.3-million++

+TaxWatch did not do turkey reviews in 1984, 1985 and 1992.

++TaxWatch says that $266.4-million of these projects are probably turkeys; the rest possibly turkeys, but due to the Legislature's accellerated timetable, the group didn't have enough time to be sure.

Source: TaxWatch

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