Florida TaxWatch sets sights on sprinkles

It's not budget turkey season yet. But analysts know where they will start hunting.

As Gov. Ron DeSantis considers where to slash funding in the budget, Florida TaxWatch is suggesting a good place to start.

The fiscal watchdog spotlighted the infamous “sprinkle list,” supplemental appropriations funded independently by each chamber of the Legislature. TaxWatch has already started reviewing some $670 million budgeted through this largely unvetted spending silo.

Florida TaxWatch has a detailed briefing that spotlights almost $53.3 million in spending included in a “preliminary turkey review.” From a gym renovation at Miami-Dade College to city hall improvements in Blountstown, the budget hawks see plenty to pick at already.

“On balance, the Florida Legislature has done a commendable job spending an unprecedented level of funds over the last three years. They have increased investments in infrastructure, the environment, and teacher and state employee pay, while also reducing state debt and providing record-breaking tax relief for Floridians,” said Dominic Calabro, Florida TaxWatch president and CEO.

“However, the proliferation of member projects and the use of sprinkle lists are problematic. This budget includes funding for more than 1,500 member projects, the largest quantity in history.”

So what spending does this encompass? Florida Politics set up an interactive graphic to explore the list earlier this month showing which areas of state government benefit. That showed how the Senate directed more toward education, while the House focused its supplements on infrastructure.

Florida TaxWatch is denoting the projects most likely to be put on the organization’s infamous “budget turkeys” list. That’s an annual recommendation to the Governor of which projects deserve to be vetoed, usually because they do not provide contributions of significant statewide value. The turkey list, of note, remains in the works.

The priciest item is for gym facilities at Miami-Dade College’s Justice Center North campus, where the Legislature budgeted almost $5.09 million. Other big-ticket items include $5.01 million for an Eau Gallie water treatment and dredging project in Brevard County, $5 million for the Moffitt Cancer Center Life Sciences Campus Road and $4 million for renovating the science center at Indian River State College’s main campus.

But the briefing also takes shots at smaller budget lines, including $100,000 in funding for Mental Health Dimensions of Wellness and more than $111,000 for a senior center in Hallandale Beach.

Whether it’s $275,000 for historic preservation in Pensacola, $500,000 for scholarships to Beacon College in Leesburg or $1 million for a freestanding emergency generator in Aventura, TaxWatch officials say there are plenty of sprinkles in need of scrutiny.

“While still at a high level, Florida’s cash reserves are getting smaller, and economists caution that the recent growth in state revenue may begin to slow considerably in the near future, which means our legislative leaders must continue to be responsible with taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” Calabro said.

“In our role as a trusted government watchdog, Florida TaxWatch encourages Gov. DeSantis to take a closer look at all projects on the sprinkle lists, and we offer this briefing as a resource as he begins his review of the Fiscal Year 2023-24 state budget.”

More broadly, the organization recommends the Governor’s team study numerous specific areas of the larger budget, including water projects; local transportation projects; housing and community development projects; school and instructional enhancements; private college and university projects; special local law enforcement projects; local fire service; economic development projects; local emergency management facilities; and workforce projects.

Officials with the group stressed that the question is about the budget process as much as the merits of particular projects.

Particularly in the area of local water projects, which make up $433 million of the budget, the state too often allows politicking to influence grants rather than developing a comprehensive strategy for dealing with environmental needs, TaxWatch representatives said.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Dont Say FLA

    May 10, 2023 at 11:35 am

    Key takeaway: “Florida Legislature has [been] spending [at] an unprecedented level … over the last three years”

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