It’s always interesting when Citrus County appears in statewide headlines. This time it’s because the county made Florida TaxWatch’s “budget turkey list” with two separate projects. One of them, the future widening of County Road 491, actually topped the list as the most expensive, at $13.3 million. (The other, at just $450,000, is the Hunter Springs Linear Park project.)
Everyone here understands how important the widening of C.R. 491 is to both local and regional transportation operations. So how does Florida TaxWatch have the chutzpah to call out that project as a “turkey?”
Florida TaxWatch is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog. For 40 years, it has operated on donations and private grants to accomplish its mission of improving the productivity and accountability of Florida government.
Since 1986 it has published an annual independent review of Florida’s proposed budget to “promote additional oversight and integrity in the state’s budgeting process based on the principle that: because money appropriated by the Legislature belongs to the taxpayers of Florida, the process must be transparent and accountable, and every appropriation should receive deliberation and public debate.”
Bottom line: It’s not about the project, it’s about the way it made it onto the funding list.
TaxWatch takes pains to point out on its website, https://floridataxwatch.org, that the “budget turkey’”label has nothing to do with a project’s worthiness, but only with the budget process. Projects on the budget turkey list generally represent far less than 1% of the state’s multi-billion-dollar overall budget.
TaxWatch’s website specifies how a project makes it onto the list: It circumvents established review/selection processes or is funded ahead of projects rated higher in the selection process; or funding was not in either House or Senate budgets but was inserted at the last minute in conference committee; or funding is from inappropriate trust funds or represents duplicative appropriations, or is contingent on legislation that did not pass.
This is good news and bad news. Our legislators, Sen. Wilton Simpson and Rep. Ralph Massullo, clearly have the county’s back. It’s due to their hard work in Tallahassee that the important C.R. 491 widening project appeared in the budget sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
At press time, the governor had not signed the budget, and could still exercise a line-item veto. Previous governors have vetoed at least some of the projects on TaxWatch’s budget turkey lists.
We’re in the awkward position of agreeing with Florida TaxWatch that all projects in the state’s admittedly complex budgeting process should be subjected to the same high standards and rigorous public debate, but at the same time hoping that Citrus County’s projects from 2019’s ‘budget turkey’ list make it through unscathed.