Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Florida Tax Watch 2011 Turkey List

Republicans in the Florida legislature can no longer blame budget turkeys on the Democrats. Republicans have super majorities in the Florida House and Senate. Rep. Joe Negron decided to deflect criticism on Republican budget turkeys by attacking the pro-bussiness Florida TaxWatch.

Today’s Florida TaxWatch Turkey List exposes a complete misapprehension of the legislative appropriations process. This hackneyed annual list of ostensible “turkeys” and “pork” is based on the mistaken rationale that budget decisions originating from the executive branch come clothed with a presumption of correctness while ideas from the elected representatives of the people should be viewed with suspicion.

Let’s take a closer look at the criteria TaxWatch uses to reach its opinion that $203 million in the 2011-12 state budget represent “turkeys”. TaxWatch charges that a funding item was “not requested by agency”, “not on PECO list”, “not in DOT work program” or “added in conference”.

TaxWatch’s deference to the executive branch is entirely misplaced. Under the Florida Constitution, the Legislature has the exclusive authority to budget. The Governor can veto a budget line item, but the executive branch cannot spend one dime of the people’s money without the express authorization of the Legislature. Likewise, “added in conference” is a flimsy basis to disparage a budget expenditure. The conference process is a meaningful and significant component of the appropriations enterprise. Conference provides an open and transparent opportunity for the House and Senate to negotiate an agreed upon budget and to take a concluding look at the Appropriations Act to determine final priorities. Many proposed funding items are reduced or eliminated during this review process.

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.

Try telling Marc Buoniconti or the thousands of Floridians confined to wheel chairs and the dozens who will show up at emergency rooms this week with spinal cord injuries that the money appropriated to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis is a “turkey”. Marc suffered a devastating spinal cord injury during a college football game and responded by co-founding the Miami Project, the world’s most comprehensive spinal cord injury research center, where promising clinical trials are underway to find cures that will one day alleviate the multiple consequences of injury.

I am proud of Florida’s balanced budget, which reflects the Legislature’s thoughtful judgment and principled commitment to live within our means, the same way families and businesses do. Thankfully, the Legislature has not funded every project “requested by the agency” through the years or the taxpayers we represent would have been saddled with billions of dollars of unwise spending. The Florida TaxWatch Turkey List is a fading media gimmick that crumbles under constitutional scrutiny.

If Negron was so interested in helping the disabled he wouldn't have been on a crusade to cut Medicaid. Then there is Negron's bizarre and offensive comments about KidCare.

“I don’t think they have a KidCare program in Ethiopia or India,” he said, admonishing people testifying before his committee to “stop the self-flagellation about all the things we’re not doing.”

He went on to say “I don’t want this to be the doom and gloom committee,” and that “Let’s celebrate the good things we’re doing in health and human services.”

Negron feels he should get a pat on the back if Florida's health care for poor children isn't as bad as a third world country. Which India isn't. Not that Negron is aware that India is an international economic player.

I am not crazy about Goulds Coalition of Ministers & Lay People, Inc. getting $100,000 to do social services work that could go to actual social service agencies. The original request was for $250,000 by the Rev. Ernest T. Andrews. Oversight for faith-based programs is terrible.

Negron has a point that the legislature is the branch that makes the budget. Where Negron loses me is that Republicans are proud of the budget. House Speaker Dean Cannon is silent about the pork he placed into the budget.

Orange County -- the home of current House Speaker Dean Cannon of Winter Park -- landed $38.3 million in projects that TaxWatch labeled "turkeys."

Kudos to the Florida Senate for budgeting $12 million for homeless programs. The bad news is that is going to be one of the first things Gov. Rick Scott uses his line-item veto on.

Thanks to Ryan Wiggins and Erin Choy at Florida TaxWatch for sending me a file I could read. The file is impossible to read in pdf form. My advice is convert it into an xls file. It's easier on the eyes.

Update: I failed to mention to $500,000 the Dan Marino Foundation received to start-up a vocational college. Seriously, is the legislature on crack? We are cutting education for K 12 schools. However, the legislature is going to help a rich Hall of Fame quarterback start a vocational school. Unbelievable.

Copy of 2011-12 Florida TaxWatch Turkey List (Sorted by County)-DA

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