tampabay.com

Crist's turn for 'turkey' hunt

Will lawmakers' pet projects withstand the same scrutiny they gave local budgets?

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published May 7, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Florida lawmakers spent the past two months criticizing cities and counties for excessive spending.

Now it's their turn to be held accountable.

The new state budget is stuffed with local projects sponsored by individual lawmakers.

They spent millions on the kinds of projects that cities and counties are preparing to cut from their own budgets under the Legislature's threat of mandatory property tax reductions.

Most of the projects are funded with one-time pots of nonrecurring money that under the state Constitution generally can't be spent for ongoing programs or salaries.

So, while state employees won't get a pay raise, the budget includes $2-million for an expo in Wakulla County, $1.5-million for a rowing training center in Melbourne, and $50, 000 for an orchid festival in Miami.

Fort Lauderdale's Las Olas Boulevard, one of the state's ritziest addresses, awaits $1.3-million for "streetscape improvements." Upscale Coral Gables gets $100, 000 for a trolley depot.

Over the past eight years, Jeb Bush vetoed billions worth of projects - $449-million last year alone. He's gone, and lawmakers are as protective as ever of their right to tap the public purse for a boat ramp or a courthouse annex.

Some projects have a broad public benefit. The ones that don't are called "turkeys."

Gov. Charlie Crist will decide which are which, using his line-item veto. He has not issued criteria for evaluating projects.

"Time will tell, " Crist said. "I think it's very important to be judicious, to review each of those items and try to have a measure if it's in the public interest."