Some call them pork projects. In Florida, many call them turkeys. Others call them a worthy use of legislative discretion.

Florida TaxWatch, the business-backed research group, released its annual list of “turkeys” today, finding nearly $203 million in local projects not requested by state agencies or vetted by the traditional budgeting process – an increase over recent years, and the most since 2007. Its press release notes the money could have gone to other purposes – for example, an increase of $138 million could increase K-12 education funding by $53 per student.

State Sen. Joe Negron, a Martin County Republican who oversees health spending, blasted the exercise in a statement, calling it a “fading media gimmick that crumbles under constitutional scrutiny” and is overly deferent to the executive branch.

Negron raises points that echo some aspects of the on-again, off-again debate over congressional earmarks at the federal level. In the scheme of the overall budget, $200 million is not a lot of money. Besides, as Negron argues, lawmakers are within their constitutional authority to steer money to projects that they deem worthy but, for whatever reason, weren’t requested by executive agencies.

In his statement, he offers an example of such a project:

TaxWatch calls $500,000 appropriated for the Loveland Center in Sarasota County a “turkey” because it was “not requested by an agency”.  That is true.  It was, however, requested by Senator Nancy Detert, who was actually elected by her constituents to write the state budget.  The Loveland Center offers adult day training, supported living and group home services to adults with severe developmental disabilities.  I know – I’ve been to the Loveland Center myself to observe and admire the 125 students who overcome their disabilities and participate fully in community life, including working at businesses from Siesta Key to Englewood.

On the other hand, that legislative discretion is not always spread evenly, and can sometimes be a function of political power. Among Florida counties, the biggest beneficiary, according to this breakdown from TaxWatch, is Orange County, home of House Speaker Dean Cannon, as well as the University of Central Florida, which could get some $19 million for construction projects flagged on the list.

Orange County’s total haul was more than $38 million. The next-largest recipient was Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, which got about $21 million. Other big winners included Brevard and Polk counties, home of the Senate President and the Senate budget chief, respectively. By comparison, Broward County, which is the state’s second most populous county but also deep blue and represented predominantly by Democrats, received a proportionally smaller $2.75 million.

With his line-item veto, Gov. Rick Scott can – and probably will – nix some of these projects individually as he signs the budget, which is expected to happen some time in the next few days.

The full TaxWatch report can be read here.

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