Florida TaxWatch Finds $120 Million Worth of State Budget ‘Turkeys’
May 23, 2014
Florida taxpayers are set to pay $120 million for projects inserted into the State Budget and not publicly vetted by lawmakers next year, according to the Florida Tax Watch 2014 Budget “Turkey” Report published today, May 23, 2014.
The annual independent review highlights legislative appropriations that Florida Tax Watch believes circumvent transparency and accountability standards in public budgeting.
Few law enforcement, criminal justice or corrections line items appear to have made it onto this year’s “Turkey” list. To access the Florida Tax Watch report, click here.
To access the Florida Legislature’s county-by-county list of budget allocations click here.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has line-item veto power over the State Budget, giving him the authority to eliminate funding for specific projects. He formally received Florida’s 2014-2015 fiscal year budget on May 20, 2014, starting a 15-day period in which he is constitutionally required to sign it.
Given the added factor of 2014 being an election year, the Governor’s budget action could happen before June 4, when the 15-day period officially ends.
Florida Tax Watch explained in its report that its “Budget Turkey” label does not signify judgment of a project’s worthiness or value, but promotes transparency in public budgeting and encourages meaningful legislative review of all appropriations.
“It is understandable that lawmakers would like to share this year’s budget surplus with their local constituents through member projects,” said Kurt Wenner, Vice President for Tax Research at Florida TaxWatch. “However, in order to ensure transparency during appropriations and that proper accountability standards are in place for these projects, the Legislature should establish a competitive selection process for them to receive funding.”
The 2014 Budget Turkeys make up less than one-quarter of one percent of this year’s $77.1 billion budget, which is the largest in Florida’s history. This TaxWatch Report calls for the Governor to carefully consider the Budget Turkeys during his veto process.
In addition to listing the Budget Turkeys, the Report contains highlights from this year’s Legislative budgeting process, emphasizing the lack of transparency during the appropriation of projects appearing on the list.
Though the Legislature had a budget surplus exceeding $1 billion, it was unable to fund several budget priorities, including provisions of the 2014 House and Senate Work Plan. The Florida Tax Watch Report suggests alternative options for the use of the $120 million, including increasing per-student funding by 3.24 percent, rather than 2.61 percent, reducing the Agency for Persons With Disabilities’ Waitlist by more than 4,000 individuals, and increasing state employee salaries by more than $1,000.
Every year Florida lawmakers are required to pass a State Budget during the legislative session. Aside from legislators, key players in Florida’s budget process include state agencies, the chief financial officer and the governor.
The budget process is cyclical. Just as lawmakers finish one budget at the end of June, the process starts over for the next year’s plan at the beginning of July.
Below is a Florida Budget process reference guide reprinted from LobbyTools/The Florida Current (www.TheFloridaCurrent.com).
About Florida’s Budgeting Process
(Reprinted from LobbyTools/The Florida Current)
Step 1: Agency Instructions
The governor and legislative leadership provide written instructions to state agencies to develop their budget requests. The guidelines must be sent out by July 15.
Step 2: Revenue Projections
The second step of the budget process mandated by Florida Statute is the creation of a report called the Long-Range Financial Outlook. Primarily, it compares projections of state revenue with the cost of major programs, such as Medicaid, in the annual budget. State law dictates that the report provides a three-year picture of Florida’s fiscal strategy, and sets an annual deadline of Sept. 15.
Step 3: Agency Planning
Once the Outlook is produced, state agencies and the judicial branch create their own Long-Range Program Plan (LRPP). The plans outline the next five years of priority programs, project needs and agency implementation goals. LRPP’s are due annually by Sept. 30.
Step 4: Budget Requests
The program plans and the outlook help shape the annual Legislative Budget Requests. LBRs provide breakdowns of the amount of money each agency needs to perform the functions authorized and required by law. They are due from each agency by October 15 of each year. The agencies explain their budget requests in public hearings and give presentations to the various appropriations committees of the Legislature.
Step 5: Governor’s Budget Recommendations
The governor uses the LBRs to make a budget recommendation. State law requires the governor to submit their recommendations at least 30 days before the beginning of the legislative session.
Step 6: House and Senate Appropriations
The Florida House and Senate begin to craft what will become the state’s budget during the legislative session, and turn to the governor’s recommendations and the Legislative Budget Requests as resources. Using revised figures provided by a March conference of state economists and information gathered during appropriation committee meetings, the legislative leadership decides how much each subject area — such as education — has to spend. The various appropriation committees create their chamber’s version of the budget. The appropriation bills are filed, open to amendment by all members, and passed by each chamber.
The House and Senate alternate hosting the budget process. Since the Senate hosted in the 2013-14 appropriation cycle, the House will host the 2014-15 budget.
Types of Appropriation Bills
- General appropriations bills establish the funding sources, specific uses of funds and the spending authority.
- Implementing bills are effective for only one fiscal year and provide necessary language to implement the budget as defined in the general appropriations bill.
- Conforming bills suggest that a Florida Statute must be amended in order to comply with language in an appropriation bill.
Step 7: Budget Conference
Joint Budget Conference Committees are then formed to negotiate over differences between the House and Senate budget bills. Issues that cannot be agreed upon by each chambers subject area committees are ‘bumped’ to the Conference Committee – At Large, which contain each chamber’s Appropriation Committee chairs.
The Appropriations Chairs make all final adjustments and eliminate any outstanding differences between the two budgets. The result of these budget agreements is filed as the Conference Committee Report. There is a 72-hour window for public viewing before the adoption of the report by both chambers. Each chamber then adopts the report, and votes on the final version of the budget.
Step 8: Governor’s approval and veto power
The governor then signs the budget with the option to use a line-item veto, which allows the state’s chief executive to cancel specific appropriations. A two-thirds majority vote is needed to overturn any veto.
A Fiscal Analysis in Brief, providing a summary of the recently passed budget based on subject area, is issued annually by the Florida Legislature in August. A Final Budget Report, providing a budget summary by agency, is due by the 120th day after the beginning of the fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
HOW DOES FLORIDA GENERATE REVENUE?
The state budget is grouped into three major funding categories:
- Federal trust funds – provided by the federal government and typically funds programs and services mandated by the federal government such as Medicaid
- State trust funds – money designated by state law for specific purposes such as Transportation and Affordable Housing
- General revenue – funding collected through state tax revenues. General revenue garners the most competition because this funding can go toward any purpose.