Turkey, pork, bringing home the bacon: 1,540 pet projects slipped into 2023-24 state budget

TaxWatch analysis highlights more than 200 projects — or ‘turkeys’– that circumvent transparency in budget process

By: - June 6, 2023 2:50 pm

Florida’s Old Capitol and New Capitol, viewed from the Leon County Courthouse on March 21, 2022. Credit: Michael Moline

When the Florida Legislature approved a $117 billion state budget in May, 1,540 local projects slipped into the massive document, from museums, soccer and football fields, and after school programs to libraries and community centers, water main projects and wastewater treatment facilities – often with big price tags.

The record number of local projects, often called turkeys, pork, or pet projects, added up to about $3.2 billion.

“The amount is even more remarkable when one considers there are 160 legislators. This means each lawmaker was able to secure an average of nearly 10 member projects (called “appropriations projects” by the Legislature) worth an average of $20 million for their home district,” according to an analysis by Florida TaxWatch, a longtime nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog.

Over the years, there’s been questions about the projects in the budget and how much state money should be used for pet projects that could be financed by local governments. But lawmakers continue the effort to get local projects into the state budget. And the 2023-24 budget year, which will launch July 1, is flush with cash, according to TaxWatch.

The state budget is not final — Gov. Ron DeSantis needs to review the state budget, which would likely include vetoes.

Of the overall pet projects, 218 have been identified as “budget turkeys” worth $598.7 million, according to the 2023 Budget Turkey Watch Report released Tuesday. The list of budget turkeys are included in the report.

“The Budget Turkey label does not signify judgment of a project’s worthiness, but rather identifies appropriations that circumvent transparency and accountability standards in public budgeting, according to the annual report.

In addition, “Florida TaxWatch is not recommending that the Governor veto any specific project on the Budget Turkey list. We are providing this report to assist the Governor in his budget deliberations, recommending that he not only consider the value and efficacy of a project, but also if it meets turkey-criteria, if it addresses a core state government function, and if it was selected through a fair process that promotes the best interest of taxpayers statewide,” the analysis states.

Here are some of the big “budget turkeys” on the list:

Health and Financial Tech Graduate Education Center, $75 million, Duval County.

Hotel Ponce de Leon, $35 million, St. Johns County.

School of Music Addition, $35 million, Alachua County.

College of Dentistry, $30 million, Palm Beach County.

Ponte Vedra Beach Beach and Dune Restoration III, $25 million, St. Johns County.

Workforce Development Center – Leesburg Campus, $17.5 million, Lake County.

Clewiston Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade Project, $11 million, Hendry County.

Citrus County – Inverness Airport Business Park Phase 2, $9 million, Citrus County.

Okaloosa County – Shoal River Ranch Water Reclamation Facility, $7 million, Okaloosa County.

African-American Arts and Cultural Center, $5 million, Hillsborough County.

Keep in mind that the overall 1,540 local projects approved in the 2023-24 budget were actually shaved down during the legislative session, when budget negotiators were finalizing the document.

The Florida Phoenix wrote earlier that the Senate’s original pet project list added up to about 2,250 local projects at a whopping $5.6 billion.

The House’s original list was about 2,300 projects, adding up to about $5.4 billion.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.