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Budget 'turkeys' include the Dali

Florida TaxWatch names the budget items it wants Gov. Bush to veto. Tampa's Riverwalk also made the list.

By ALEX LEARY
Published May 25, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - Hoping to prompt a Jeb Bush veto, Florida TaxWatch announced its annual budget "turkeys" Wednesday, and many Tampa Bay area projects made the list, including $4-million for relocating St. Petersburg's Salvador Dali Museum and money for Tampa's Riverwalk.

Gov. Bush, who will detail his decisions this afternoon and said Tuesday he plans major cuts, was urged to veto millions in hurricane-related spending, including an emergency shelter in Pasco County, and millions more for water improvement projects across the state.

Colleges and universities also are recommended for a big hit, notably $9-million for a science and technology building at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

TaxWatch, a nonprofit group backed largely by businesses, targeted 489 projects for a total of $295-million. It was the second-highest dollar amount of turkeys ever, spurred by a record budget surplus.

The organization acknowledged many projects have value but said they got into the $71-billion budget without adequate legislative review or were not recommended by an agency or the governor.

"Budget turkeys are examples of appropriations of taxpayers' hard-earned money that challenge the integrity of the budget process and the transparency in budget decisions," said TaxWatch president Dominic Calabro, standing next to a stuffed bird at a news conference.

But lawmakers and backers of the projects faulted TaxWatch's assessment. "TaxWatch in my opinion looks at each project without realizing the importance ... in local areas and statewide," said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who pitched a $7.7-million hurricane shelter for Pasco and Hernando that would double as a health clinic for the poor.

"If we don't appreciate the importance of hurricane-related issues now, we never will," he said.

Bush nearly vetoed $4-million for the Salvador Dali Museum last year, changing his mind only after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker crafted a last-minute deal in which the city would spend $2-million on a new park in exchange for the money.

Dali officials say their current home is too cramped and vulnerable to hurricanes. They want to build a museum on the former site of the Bayfront Center Arena. The museum plans to raise $8-million privately and $6-million selling the current building. Officials also want the state's help.

Last year's $4-million appropriation was supposed to be a one-time deal, but the city and its advocates in the Legislature returned for another $4-million this year. TaxWatch cited it as one of its top questionable expenses.

"It's a good project for the state as well as the city," Baker said Wednesday. "It's probably the strongest museum in the Southeast, and it brings in a quarter-million people a year. A lot of those are international tourists. It puts us on the map culturally as a state."

Baker personally lobbied the governor this year and was hoping to speak with his staff Wednesday. He said he was optimistic after conversations with local lawmakers who had talked with the governor's staff.

Bush spokeswoman Alia Faraj noted the governor said last year he would support the Dali one time, but "with that said, every item in the budget is in the process of being reviewed thoroughly."

Bush will outline his budget decisions at 1:30 p.m. today.

"There'll be some vetoes, no question about it," Bush told reporters Tuesday afternoon. He said there could be cuts beyond the so-called turkeys, too.

Riverwalk, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio's grand vision for a downtown pedestrian corridor also met TaxWatch's scorn. The group wants Bush to veto $3.5-million for the project, though $2.5-million of that is intended for a parking garage for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

State Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, who championed the Riverwalk requests, defended the project. "As we position Tampa Bay to be more of a national and global city, those types of investments are important," he said.

TaxWatch left no corner of the state untouched, dubbing turkeys from greater Miami ($1-million for the Hialeah Racetrack) to Orlando ($200,000 for drainage improvements) to Pensacola ($310,000 for a greyhound track that suffered during Hurricane Ivan).

It said the $295-million total could have been used to build six schools, hire 2,500 teachers, increase per-student funding by $20 and provide health insurance for 31,250 children.

It did find one highlight amid the spending: Officials in Tallahassee set aside $2.5-billion for future needs.

Budget 'turkeys'

Here are some of the Tampa Bay area budget items Florida TaxWatch is urging Gov. Jeb Bush to veto today:

Pinellas County

* $9-million for USF St. Petersburg campus expansion

* Museum relocation

* $2-million for Oldsmar municipal water supply

Hillsborough County

* $1-million for Riverwalk project - $2.5-million for Tampa Bay Lightning parking garage

* $900,000 for Tampa firefighters museum

Citrus County

* $85,000 sewer project for Crystal River

* $2.5-million for new county emergency operations center

Hernando County

* $900,000 for Brooksville water system improvement

* $82,500 for Pine Island sewer project

Pasco County

* $7-million for hurricane shelter

* $100,000 for juvenile detention center defibrillator system

[Last modified May 25, 2006, 07:25:37]


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