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Is there really that much turkey in state government?

By on April 15, 2012

On Friday, Florida Tax Watch released its annual list of ‘turkeys’, those infamous pork barrel projects added to the budget outside the normal budgetary process or that are strictly local or private in nature.

The unveiling of the list is great political theater.

Dominic Calabro, the organization’s president, bestrides the Florida Press Center with a real, live turkey by his side.  The list of questionable projects are all but perp-walked before the media like condemned prisoners.  The newspapers and television stations lap up the information, grateful for a ready-made story on a Friday afternoon.

The do-gooders in and out of state government harumph, harumph. The editorial boards and op-ed writers turn on the auto-pilot.  Even the Governor gets in on the act, falling over himself to veto a ‘record’ amount of budget turkeys.

But is there really that much turkey in state government? Or is it actually just the difference between Publix brand and Boar’s Head.

This year, TaxWatch identified 159 projects totaling almost $170 million.  Out of a $70 billion budget.

By my math, that’s .24 percent.

Of course, the budget hawks will say that unless that percent is at absolute zero, there’s waste, maybe even corruption (!), in state government.

But what’s a little turkey grease in a budget of $70 billion?

There are 160 legislators. Carve up that $170 million in budget turkeys among them and what does that work out to? A million per, right?

Believe it or not, but state government would operate a lot better if each legislator got to bring home $1 million in bacon without it being accused of tasting like turkey.

Vetoing these budget turkeys is no different than the gift ban or term limits. It sounds all well and good at first, but it actually makes the political system unmanageable, if not toxic.

Now, I’m sure there is some really dark meat on these budget turkeys, meaning some of these projects really are questionable. But this argument that a project isn’t worthwhile if it does not meet a statewide need is narrow-minded.

There is a lot of good to be found in a Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg or an Autism Center in Miami.  So long as the money goes around, I say you build your foundation or museum or what-have-you, just make sure there is enough in the budget to let me build my children’s hospital or institute.

Gobble, gobble.

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