Backroom Briefing: Prepping budget turkeys; disregarding dissent at New College
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida TaxWatch should soon release a list of budget “turkeys,” but the Tallahassee-based group is already indicating its line-item veto suggestions to the governor could be lengthy.
The business-backed group highlighted more than 1,500 legislative-member projects that turned up in the proposed state spending plan (SB 2500) and $670 million in “supplemental funding initiatives” that found their way into the record-high annual budget in the final days of the legislative session that ended May 5. The initiatives list is often referred to as the “sprinkle list.”
“The proliferation of member projects and the use of sprinkle lists are problematic,” Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said in a post-session press release.
Calabro advised Gov. Ron DeSantis to focus on areas of the budget earmarking funds for projects involving water, local transportation, economic development, housing and community development, special local law enforcement and emergency management facilities.
“Despite the numerous existing grant programs created by the Florida Legislature, including some established recently, this year’s budget contains a record $433 million worth of member water projects,” Calabro wrote. “Circumventing competitive processes is done at the expense of a strategic, comprehensive water plan that is determined using the best scientific data.”
The sprinkle list added money for Medicaid reimbursement-rate increases for nursing homes and other providers, university and college operations, alternative water supplies, bonuses to attract corrections officers, state courts' due-process costs, and graduate medical education.
Still, TaxWatch in its preliminary review identified 38 projects totaling $53.3 million “that meet criteria for our Budget Turkey Watch report.”
The overall “turkey” list has drawn scorn from lawmakers in previous years as being somewhat dubious, in part because some items were tagged due to the manner in which they were cooked into the budget rather than their worthiness of taxpayer funding.
“As we point out in our annual Budget Turkey Watch report, many member projects are worthwhile, sometimes critical. Others are not,” the TaxWatch release said. “Regardless of the value of any project, they should all get the review and deliberation taxpayers deserve when their money is being spent. In addition, they should follow any established competitive selection process that the Legislature has established for similar projects.”
TaxWatch noted that the proposed spending plan carries a $117 billion price tag, but the total actually is higher because the budget “also contains a few billion dollars in spending that is technically appropriated” for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.
While in Sarasota on Monday, DeSantis said the Legislature “by and large,” did a good job on the state spending plan.
“I think people remember last year, we vetoed about 3 percent of the overall budget, which was a record by far,” DeSantis said. “I don't anticipate that being necessary this year. But we’ll see.”
NEW COLLEGE ROAST: officials pooh-pooh student protests
DeSantis and allies joining him on stage Monday downplayed protests by students at New College of Florida, the small liberal-arts school in Sarasota at the forefront of his efforts to remake higher education.
DeSantis appeared at an event inside the school’s College Hall to sign a measure aimed at prohibiting colleges and universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Chanting by a group of students protesting outdoors grew to a noticeable pitch about a third of the way into the hour-long event.
“I saw some of the protesters out there. I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for more," DeSantis joked before turning the podium over to other speakers.
Interim New College President Richard Corcoran, a former Republican House speaker, took credit for the protests.
“What you’re hearing outside, that’s all on me. I told staff last night to turn off the air conditioning in the dorms. If you listen carefully, they’re saying, ‘Turn the air back on. Turn the air back on,’” he said.
Christopher Rufo, a DeSantis appointee to the New College board of trustees, belittled the students’ shouting as a “kind of kindergarten-level protest."
“I think we’re louder in here than they are out there,” Rufo said. “I just like to say, I’m from the Seattle, Washington, area. To me, waking up in the morning and hearing protests is like turning on the coffee machine.”
Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, suggested that Corcoran could use some of the increased funding headed to New College to provide the protestors with an alternative outlet.
“Richard, I hope that some of the money that we gave you, you can build classrooms for your drama students outside,” Perry said.
Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, piled on with a reference to DeSantis’ oft-repeated line that Florida is where “woke goes to die.”
“When you hear what is going on outside, that’s what woke sounds like when it dies,” Roach said.