TALLAHASSEE (AP) - A research and advocacy group with close business ties Tuesday recommended that Gov. Rick Scott veto 105 "turkeys" worth $203 million because they were added to Florida's budget after bypassing normal vetting processes or had not been requested by an agency or the governor.
Projects on Florida TaxWatch's annual list include a wide range of transportation and college and university building projects as well as spending on local facilities such as civic, senior, sports, health care and agricultural centers.
Turkeys are Florida's version of "pork" at the federal level.
TaxWatch, though, limits its turkey list to items with procedural issues regardless of whether their public benefit is questionable.
While not the biggest list TaxWatch has compiled over the last 29 years, the organization's president. Dominc Calabro, said he was surprised it was so long because lawmakers have called the upcoming budget year that begins July 1 one of the toughest budget years on record after cutting nearly $4 billion in spending.
Many items listed were in neither the House nor Senate versions of the budget but added by joint conference committees or by the chambers' budget chairs, Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.
"There seemed to be political preference over public policy priority," Calabro said at a news conference in Coral Gables. "It creates a serious question of integrity for the budget process even though a project in a vacuum - in its own way - sounds like it's going to help people and do a lot of good."
Scott has promised he'll be vetoing some spending when he signs the $69.7 billion budget into law but hasn't yet disclosed which items he'll reject. He has until June 1 to act.
Alexander's Polk County has items worth $18 million on the list, including $11 million for projects at the University of South Florida's branch in Lakeland. In Highlands, Grimsley's home county, the list includes $1.5 million for stormwater work at Sebring's airport and $2.5 million for a firefighting facility at South Florida Community College.
Neither Alexander nor Grimsley immediately returned phone messages, but Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who chairs the Senate's budget subcommittee that oversees health and human services spending, issued a statement calling the turkey list "a complete misapprehension of the legislative appropriations process" and a "fading media gimmick."
"This hackneyed annual list of ostensible 'turkeys' and 'pork' is based on the mistaken rationale that budget decisions originating from the executive branch come clothed with a presumption of correctness while ideas from the elected representatives of the people should be viewed with suspicion," Negron said.
The biggest turkey is $12 million for a national homeless veterans support group in Brevard County. It's represented by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican who is seeking the GOP U.S. Senate nomination. Also listed is $7.5 million for a public safety institute at Brevard Community College, Haridopolos' former employer.
A spokesman for Haridopolos declined immediate comment.
Orange County, home of House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican, had $38.3 million in turkeys including $19 million in building projects at the University of Central Florida and a $6 million Orange County facility for the University of Florida, Haridopolos' present employer and Cannon's alma mater.
A spokeswoman for Cannon did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Of the turkey list total, $138 million could have been used for other spending. The remaining $65 million comes from bond proceeds.
The turkeys represent only a small fraction of the overall budget, but TaxWatch officials said that $138 million could have been used to increase public school funding by $53 per student. That would have helped make up for some of some of the $542 per student that lawmakers cut from the budget.
Other major projects listed include $6.7 million for classrooms and laboratories at Miami-Dade College, $6 million for chiller plant expansion at Florida International University, $5 million for the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, $6.7 million for buildings at Edison State College in Fort Myers, $9.5 million for buildings at Florida Gulf Coast University and $6 million for a science building at Florida State University.
The list goes on: $7.3 million for Palm Beach State College construction, $6.4 million for Pasco Hernado Community College's Wesley Chapel center, $5 million for a community operations center in Glades County, $3.25 million for the Wounded Warrior project in Duval County, $5 million for the Internal Regatta Sports Center in Pinellas County and $4.5 million for a Department of Agriculture online daily logistics calendar.
Some of the smaller items include $500,000 to the Dan Marino Foundation in Broward County, $100,000 to Gould's Coalition of Ministries and Lay People in Miami-Dade, $100,000 to the Richmond Heights Homeowners Association in Miami-Dade, $500,000 to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and $150,000 to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.