Southwest Florida is represented nearly entirely by Republicans elected on fiscally conservative platforms. Still, a list of “turkeys” from Florida TaxWatch marked many a member project in the region for a recommended veto.
And Hardee County, a community of around 27,400 people according to latest state estimates, ended up on the list more than any other place in the 10-county region.
TaxWatch’s fiscal hawks found fat in the community in facility construction and cultural grants.
“Adding more through budget earmarks is done at the expense of statewide priorities,” the TaxWatch report states.
Lawmakers in the region balked at the labeling of expenditures as questionable.
“Too bad TaxWatch didn’t give me a call to discuss these issues and why they are so highly valued to my area,” said Sen. Ben Albritton. “I guess a ‘turkey’ is in the eye of the beholder.”
TaxWatch seemed particularly concerned about the number of dollars that ended up in Hardee County. In the Agriculture Promotion and Education Facilities, the group flagged four projects, two of them in the rural community. The Legislature budgeted $630,000 for the Hardee County Agricultural Educational Training Conference Center (HB 2241). Another $16,000 was set aside for the Hardee County Citrus Facility (HB 2667). TaxWatch notes that neither project was included in a prioritized list for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services or the Governor’s proposed budget.
“While other projects qualified for funding, the Governor should scrutinize them closely,” a report from TaxWatch says.
Similarly, the Cracker Trail Museum and Pioneer Village Expansion in Zolfo Springs was flagged.
But Albritton said all projects were vetted by his office and will serve a need.
“Hardee County, just like the vast majority of my district, is a very fiscally challenged community,” the Wauchula Republican said. “Rural Florida can use a hand up right now in trying to emerge from the pandemic.”