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TaxWatch: Gov. DeSantis Should Veto With 'Light Touch'

Florida TaxWatch CEO Dominc Calabro speaks at a press conference.
Shawn Mulcahy

Florida TaxWatch has released its annual budget transparency and accountability report. 

The non-profit budget watchdog group Florida TaxWatch released its annual Budget Turkey Watch report on Wednesday. Budget Turkeys are usually local member projects that are added to the final budget without going through the budget process.

This year, the organization found a comparatively small number of turkeys: 109 appropriations items totaling $133 million, or less than one-tenth of 1% of the state’s $91 billion budget.

That good news, said TaxWatch CEO Dominic Calabro. While the state's budget has continued to grow in recent years, the number of budget turkeys has sagged.

“It’s still a significant amount of money that could’ve been spent in areas such as early education," said Calabro. "That $133 million could’ve been spent additionally in classrooms – whether it’s charter or public classrooms – hurricane recovery, services for children and the elderly, and even in some cases tax cuts."

The report doesn't judge a project’s worthiness, noted Calabro. Instead, he said it ensures projects recieve propper vetting and accountability. Without it, Calabro said taxpayers are left with a "hope and a prayer that some good will come of it."

The report recommends Gov. Ron DeSantis take a “light touch” when exercising his line-item veto this year. Historically, some first-year governors have taken a more agressive approach when reviewing the budget.

Calabro noted a certain collegiality between the two chambers and the executive branch.

The report draws attention to the growth of supplimental funding lists. Called “sprinkle” lists, supplemental funding projects are added in during the budget conference. Sometimes they are projects that have been rejected in committee and sometimes they have never been seen before.

“This year, they were record in size: the Senate list had 127 items worth $153.5 million, the House funded 110 items at $136.2 [million]," said Kurt Wenner, TaxWatch's vice president of research. "This means that $289.7 million in hard earned taxpayer dollars were spent as almost an afterthought after all the various budget areas had been closed out.”

Member projects have their merits, admitted Calabro, but local projects – such as county road expansions – should be funded by local governments. Instead, he argued items in the state budget should serve the entire state's interests.

Read the report in full below:

Shawn Mulcahy is a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU. He graduated from Florida State University in 2019 with majors in public relations and political science. He was previously an intern at WFSU, and worked as an Account Coordinator at RB Oppenheim Associates.