TALLAHASSEE — About $40 million earmarked for the Tampa Bay region made an annual list of state spending on projects dubbed “turkeys” by a business-backed taxpayer watchdog.
The biggest turkey identified in the entire 2014-15 state budget was $12 million earmarked for the Port of Tampa Bay’s gantry crane project.
Florida TaxWatch on Friday released its list of $120 million worth of spending items in the $77.1 billion state budget passed by lawmakers May 2.
The group is asking Gov. Rick Scott to use his line-item veto authority to take the highlighted spending out of the budget. Scott has until June 4 to act.
TaxWatch doesn’t pass judgment on projects’ worthiness, said Kurt Wenner, the group’s vice president for research.
TaxWatch instead takes issue with the process, singling out only those items it believes did not get enough public scrutiny when lawmakers put together the budget. Usually, “turkeys” are slipped in during the final days of the session.
For instance, TaxWatch praised the Port of Tampa Bay’s crane project, but labeled it a turkey nonetheless.
“This economic development project, matched by private funds, should provide a positive return on investment, increase jobs and increase Florida’s global competitiveness, but was added very late,” the group’s report said.
Spokesman Edward Miyagishima said the port “appreciates the great work Florida Tax Watch does,” but offered that the cranes will ensure it can offload cargo from newer, bigger ships.
The second-biggest item on the list locally was $10 million to build a performing arts center at Pasco Hernando State College.
TaxWatch faulted this project, in House Speaker Will Weatherford’s district, because it wasn’t on the approved list of educational center construction. A college spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Coming in third locally was $5 million for the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine.
TaxWatch said this item wasn’t on the construction funding request list from the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system.
In a statement, USF President Judy Genshaft said Scott has been a “tremendous supporter” of university projects and is “hopeful that he will support the appropriation.”
The rest of the list for Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties includes:
♦ Florida Conservation and Technology Center: $3 million for its Center for Conservation.
♦ Museum of Science & Industry: $2.5 million for design and construction of its STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) Showcase and MOSI Tech.
♦ Tarpon Springs: $2.5 million for dredging and wharf stabilization.
♦ Hillsborough Homelessness Initiative: $800,000.
♦ Lutheran Services Florida: $750,000.
♦ Temple Terrace Parkway extension: $600,000.
♦ East (Hillsborough) County Regional Service and Resource Center: $500,000.
♦ St. Petersburg: $500,000 for improvements to Mahaffey Theater.
♦ Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center: $500,000.
♦ Florida Energy Technology Project: $250,000 for a renewable energy “biosolids” project in Pinellas County.
♦ Tune into Reading: $250,000.
♦ Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla: $200,000 for Sand Key Park.
♦ Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa: $200,000 for work readiness training.
♦ Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-entry Coalition: $150,000.
♦ Men of Vision: $100,000 to help 6th-12th grade boys “reach their academic potential.”
♦ PARC (formerly Pinellas Association for Retarded Children): $100,000.
♦ YMCA of Tampa: $100,000 for a “Tech Smart” program.
Scott spokesman John Tupps said the governor is already going through the budget but wouldn’t tip his hand on what’s staying in and what’s coming out.
Last year, Scott vetoed 71 of 107 items on TaxWatch’s turkey list last year, cutting $71 million out of the 2013-14 state budget.
“Our office will work … to produce the best state budget that invests in Florida’s future and puts the state on a path toward continued job growth and opportunity for every family,” Tupps said.
Every year, the budget comes together toward the end of the legislative session, with a few brief public meetings. That’s historically been called “transparency,” through the real work is done behind the scenes by staff members after lawmakers have cut deals.
TaxWatch’s Wenner said the state budget process may never be fully transparent.
Legislators “have to agree on every letter, every number in the budget,” he said. “To do that, there’s going to have to be some secrecy, some decisions made behind closed doors, or the budget would never get finished.
“But that’s why we say, ‘Don’t bring in new things’” at the very end of the process, Wenner added.