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NOW IT'S TIME TO TRIM THE TURKEYS

Veto pork-barrel spending

"Veto what the legislators call 'turkeys' - costly and unnecessary pork-barrel projects."

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Scott-o-meter: IN THE WORKS

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In the pre-dawn hours on May 7, 2011, the Florida Legislature adjourned after overcoming its usual final hurdle: the annual budget. The Senate approved the $69.7 billion proposal late on May 6, and the House passed it just after 2 a.m. May 7.

We have written about many of the budget provisions: to cut taxes, cut state jobs and require workers to contribute to their pensions. But the budget includes other appropriations often described as turkeys, pork, hometown projects or special member projects.

These allocations are about bringing home the bacon. Lawmakers try to slip money into the budget for spending in their districts, to show the voters that they're up in Tallahassee helping out the folks back home.

During the 2010 campaign, Rick Scott promised he would "veto what the legislators call 'turkeys' - costly and unnecessary pork-barrel projects."

But using his line-item veto now to strike out millions of dollars worth of turkeys will not make him popular with the lawmakers who proposed them. Whether taxpayers want them vetoed likely depends on whether you're one of the folks back home who would benefit from the spending.

What are these turkeys?

A St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald article on May 3 described some of them.

Sen. J.D. Alexander, the budget chief, steered $46 million to University of South Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland. Future House Speaker Will Weatherford added $6.9 million for Pasco-Hernando Community College in his hometown of Wesley Chapel. Future Senate President Don Gaetz of Niceville put in $6 million in economic aid to the Panhandle in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.

An Orlando Sentinel report on May 4 noted that Sen. Gary Siplin, an Orlando Democrat who supported Republicans on some votes, was able to include $3.4 million for the Pine Hills neighborhood, $900,000 for the Parramore neighborhood and $100,000 for historic preservation in Eatonville, all in Orange County.

House Speaker Dean Cannon put in $2.4 million for the medical school at the University of Central Florida and $400,000 for the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government, the Sentinel reported. Added during the final week of the session were $2 million for the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and $6 million for a University of Florida facility, both in the Orlando area. (Cannon's a UF grad.)

The Times/Herald report put the total in hometown projects at $156 million -- a big number but about 0.23 percent of the total budget.

Asked May 3 by the St. Petersburg Times Buzz blog whether he'll stick to his campaign vow, Scott hedged. He said he'd ask only one question: "Is it going to get our economy going?" That's a caveat he hadn't mentioned during the campaign. The Times also noted that Scott likely did some horse-trading with lawmakers on their turkeys to gain support for his own efforts to reduce the corporate income tax.

With the budget passed by the Legislature and now in Scott's hands for his signature or selective vetoes, he has his first chance as governor to "veto what the legislators call 'turkeys.' " So we wait. For now, this promise is In the Works.

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Sources:

Miami Herald, "Lawmakers agree on $68 billion budget, tax cuts," May 3, 2011

Orlando Sentinel, "Budget deal sets $308 million in tax cuts," May 4, 2011

St. Petersburg Times Buzz blog, "Will corporate tax deal save some pork projects in state budget?" May 3, 2011

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