Thrift-minded legislators serve up plenty of pork

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Linda Kleindienst
Published May 23, 2007


TALLAHASSEE State House Speaker Marco Rubio wants local governments to run leaner, but his home county is set to feast on a banquet of pork, courtesy of state taxpayers.

More than 100 of Miami-Dade's projects included in the $72 billion state budget are being targeted by Florida TaxWatch, which wants Gov. Charlie Crist to veto or scrutinize them.

Included are a $6 million appropriation for a science and technology building at St. Thomas University, a private school in Miami. Another $725,000 is targeted for construction at the YMCA of Greater Miami.

TaxWatch, an independent watchdog of state spending, has identified nearly $275 million in "turkeys", Tallahassee parlance for pet legislative projects that have not undergone a thorough state review. The biggest item on its hit list: $14.1 million for renovations by Florida Atlantic University at the Harbor Branch Institute in St. Lucie County, home to Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.

"Political might does not make right in a constitutional form of government," said Dominic Calabro, TaxWatch president. "The legislative leader has tremendous influence over this." But Rubio, R-West Miami, said he was unfamiliar with many projects TaxWatch objects to and played no role in putting them into the budget.

"The budget has 160 fathers and mothers to it," he said, referring to the roster of the Florida Legislature.

Despite a tight budget year, there are 509 projects on the turkey list. Their cumulative $274.7 million pricetag -- $14 for every man, woman and child in the state -- is the third highest since TaxWatch began releasing its list of recommended budget vetoes 24 years ago.

Included this year is $840,000 for a Latin American street festival in Miami, $900,000 for a Gospel Complex for Education in Fort Lauderdale, $500,000 for a shooting range in Indian River County, $1.3 million to beautify Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and $300,000 for the Professional Golf Association based in Palm Beach Gardens.

Crist and his staff are still studying the budget, which takes effect July 1. Thursday is his deadline to identify what items he will cut.

Asked Tuesday how much he plans to veto, Crist said, "We'll be going over that for hours today."

During his eight years in office, former Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed nearly $1 billion worth of legislators' hometown programs.

Most of the items targeted by TaxWatch were not recommended by Crist or a state agency or were slipped into the budget during final negotiations between the House and Senate.