July 1 marked the first day of Florida’s 2016-17 fiscal year with the new $82.3 billion budget and 159 laws going into effect.
The budget, the largest in Florida history, funds all types of services for Floridians, ranging from education and health care to state parks and court renovations.
Passing a state budget is required by the Florida Constitution and involves extremely difficult decisions. Still, it is imperative that our elected officials exercise accountability and transparency in the budgeting process. The hardworking taxpayers of Florida rightfully expect that lawmakers will thoroughly vet all appropriations before adding them to the budget.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
During the 2015 Special Session, 189 local projects worth $167 million made it into the budget without deliberation during the conference portion of the budget process. These “budget turkeys” comprise a small amount of the total budget; however, circumventing the vetting process and sneaking projects into the budget is not a responsible way to allocate taxpayer funds.
It is imperative that legislators hear the concerns of Floridians and ensure that these projects are no longer added during conference without first being subject to thoughtful deliberation by all members of the Legislature.
Recently, some lawmakers have started to come around, with a few key legislators stating that they would like to see a more transparent budgeting process where member projects are scrutinized appropriately. Despite this, 143 budget turkeys worth $104.9 million made it into this fiscal year’s budget. While this is lower than in 2015, there is still more to be done to bring more accountability and transparency in the budget process.
Floridians and groups like Florida TaxWatch must remain diligent and continue to hold their lawmakers accountable about member projects making their way into the budget without any debate. Projects that circumvent an open and honest budget process must be brought to light and Floridians can voice their concerns about this issue by contacting their local representatives.
As we begin Florida’s 2016-17 fiscal year, I call on all legislators to consider ways to improve the budget process to ensure that all projects are thoroughly scrutinized before being added to the final budget.
All lawmakers should commit themselves to working to bring a more accountable and transparent budgeting process to the Sunshine State’s capitol.
Dominic M. Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.