Canned food, black museums, sports centers for young people labeled “turkeys on a budget”

TARPON SPRINGS, FL — Projects near and dear to the hearts of Pinellas County residents have been called “budget turkeys” by a research group that monitors state budget appropriations.

In his annual report, Florida TaxWatcha nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute, said there were 166 appropriations labeled as “budget turkeys” in this year’s state budget.

Commonly referred to as “hog,” TaxWatch said these were usually credits for local projects that were added to the state budget without being “fully considered and subject to the budget process” and sometimes added to the budget late in the process as a favor to legislators.

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The Legislature approved a $112.1 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 in the 2022 legislative session, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has yet to approve it.

Florida TaxWatch said the purpose of its report on “budget turkeys” is to help DeSantis determine what to veto. TaxWatch identified $281 million in what it calls “budget turkeys” in the 2022-23 budget.

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Last year, DeSantis cut $1.5 billion in items from the $100 billion budget.

Tony Carvajal, executive vice president of TaxWatch, said this year’s budget turkeys simply failed to meet the nonprofit’s standard for projects that resisted a “transparent and accountable” budget process. .

He added, however, that this year’s budget had far fewer turkeys than last year’s budget.

After reviewing the budget, TaxWatch identified 166 appropriation items totaling $281 million that it says are considered budget turkeys. Last year, TaxWatch found 243 turkeys totaling $368.4 million.

“The Florida government is awash with money,” said George LeMieux, a former U.S. senator, now chairman of the board of TaxWatch. “Given the magnitude of funds available to the Legislature, those of us at TaxWatch in Florida normally thought there would be a lot of turkeys this year. But the Legislature, frankly, surprised us. For us , turkey hunters on a budget, it was a lean year.”

Still, TaxWatch said it has concerns about using state money for local projects.

“While many of these (local) projects are worthwhile, it is harder to justify using state money for some of them,” the report says.

Kurt Wenner, senior vice president of TaxWatch, said some projects should be “local responsibilities” or should be funded by grants.

“So the question is, should the legislature pay for these local things?” Wener asked.
“Now there’s certainly an argument to be made for some of the tax restricted counties that don’t have the property tax placed to maybe pay for some of these things. But we would just like to see a process created to choose and spend a limited amount of money in the best possible way.”

This year’s budget includes several budget items proposed by Pinellas County residents intended to preserve environmentally sensitive lands and provide opportunities for disadvantaged youth.

Among them is a $3 million line item sponsored by State Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, to allow Pinellas County to purchase the West Klosterman Reservea parcel of land along the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs that local conservationists say contains more than 60 threatened or endangered plant and animal species.

Residents have spent years avoiding development, including a Walmart and apartment complex, and trying to raise the $3.2million to buy the 14-acre property that sits just south of the area management of 76-acre Mariner’s Point, a conservation area previously owned by Pinellas County.

If approved by DeSantis, the $3 million credit would allow the nonprofit West Klosterman Preservation Group to finally fully finance the purchase of the property.

The proposed budget also includes two more so-called turkeys that youth advocates say are desperately needed in deprived areas of Pinellas County.

One is $15 million for Toytown Landfill environmental remediation for a youth sports complex and the other is $13.5 million for a Pinellas Park youth sports complex to provide recreational opportunities for at-risk and economically disadvantaged youth.

Toytown is a historic 240-acre former county-owned landfill. Located near Interstate 275 and Roosevelt Boulevard, the county wants to clean up the landfill and vent any methane gas produced by 25 years of rotting trash dumped there so the site can be developed for a sports complex for young people.

Additionally, Pinellas Park is requesting $13.5 million to help design and build a $25 million youth sports complex with soccer fields and other amenities to serve disadvantaged youth in the community.

Proposed by Pinellas Park City Council, the park would provide recreational facilities for the nearby deprived community of Lealman, which has long complained of a lack of recreational facilities for the community’s youth.

The multi-faceted youth sports complex would be located just off US 19 and Interstate 275, providing direct access to recreational facilities for 155,000 Pinellas County youth.

TaxWatch also questioned a $2 million credit for the Pinellas Scientific Centeran education center focused on science and math (STEAM) programs, as well as $500,000 for the Carter G. Woodson Museum of African American History.

The $2 million would be used to renovate the Pinellas County Science Center, which was established in 1959 and served 22,000 children before it closed in 2014.

The budget also includes $500,000 to expand the county’s only black heritage museum, located in St. Petersburg.

Since opening its doors in 2006, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum has become St. Petersburg’s premier destination for African-American art, history, and culture. The installation became so popular that the museum outgrew the 4,000 square foot space of the former Jordan Park Community Center, the site of one of the first social housing communities developed by Afro-Americans. Americans.

The City of St. Petersburg donated 5.5 acres to build a new 30,000 square foot museum that would include space for expanded and new exhibits, a lecture hall and a library/justice center to enable research on African-American history and culture and to preserve the community’s African-American culture and roots.

It would also allow the museum to offer day camps and summer camps for children.

State Senator Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, originally requested a $5 million appropriation for the museum, estimated at $27 million.

TaxWatch also singled out several Pasco County projects, including $2.5 million for the 75-year-old Pasco County Fairgrounds and $35 million for an athletic training and tournament complex for youth.

The new youth sports complex, proposed by Florida Senator Danny Burgess, would be built on State Route 54 between Starkey Ranch and Austria. Pasco County’s Florida Sports Coast tourism board hopes the resort can also be used as a new spring training home for the Tampa Bay Rays.

“There will be youth sports and youth tournaments that will attract national and even international attention and attraction, and the economic impact will be profound,” Burgess said.

TaxWatch also identified $500,000 for a Hillsborough County African American Arts and Culture Center like a turkey.

Rouson also sponsored this budget item, supported by the Hillsborough County Commission.

The $30 million center would be located on the site of the West Tampa Community Resource Center, 2103 N. Rome Ave.

The 30,000 to 50,000 square foot facility would include space for art exhibits, indoor and outdoor entertainment space, a black box theater, labs, classrooms, an amphitheater, a cafe, a store and a playground.

Click on here to see the full report.

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