Gov. Rick Scott overlooked $109.2 million when making budget vetoes, according to Florida TaxWatch, which, for the second time in three years, was beaten to the punch by the governor in releasing its annual “Budget Turkey” list.
TaxWatch this week released a list of 87 projects --- collectively worth $147.5 million --- that were pushed by individual lawmakers and that the non-profit group argued should not have been included in the $88.7 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Scott signed the budget on March 16, a quick five-day turnaround after getting the 453-page package from the Legislature. He made $64 million in vetoes, of which 38 projects, worth $38.28 million, overlapped the TaxWatch list.
Kurt Wenner, vice president of research for TaxWatch, said that even though the group was late with the release of the turkey list, it is important to hold the Legislature accountable.
“This report is still being released in order to highlight the large number of projects in the budget and to offer recommendations to review the review of these projects,” Wenner, also identified by TaxWatch as its “budget turkey expert,” told reporters in a conference call.
Rather than critiquing the merits of projects, TaxWatch bases its calls for vetoes on whether proposals circumvent the normal legislative review process.
Legislators in the past have been highly critical of the annual report. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has said the group's approach fails to add anything to the budget process.
Among the projects TaxWatch argues should have been axed:
--- Florida Keys Community College, Key West Collegiate Academy classroom facility and storm shelter, $5 million
--- Arcadia rodeo equestrian facility in DeSoto County, $1 million.
--- Bradford County Fair Association, $1.5 million.
--- Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Keeper's Cottages reconstruction, $250,000.
--- Miami Military Museum and Memorial Education Center, $800,000.
--- Port of Fernandina, multipurpose dock crane and warehouse, $2 million.
--- Big Bend/Interstate 75 interchange improvements, Hillsborough County, $5 million.
--- I-75 and Overpass Road interchange, Pasco County, $15 million.
--- County Road 280A Connector Road, Walton County, $2 million.
--- Pensacola International Airport commercial aircraft maintenance, $3 million.
--- Three Sisters Springs infrastructure improvements, Crystal River, $400,000.
--- Railroad crossing relocation and road construction, Suwannee County, $300,000.
LOOKING FOR ATTENTION
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, released her first digital ad, which is focused on President Donald Trump. She calls Trump a “bully” and an “embarrassment” in the ad, which drew scattered blog attention this week.
Meanwhile, fellow Democratic candidate Philip Levine, who has spent up to $6 million to get his name out, embarked on a college speaking tour --- attracting nearly 30 students at Florida State University, where the College Democrats oversaw a lunch-time free pizza event.
With less than five months until the Aug. 28 primary elections, Democratic gubernatorial candidates, to a slightly greater extent than their Republican counterparts, are struggling for name recognition.
And that’s as the overall contest was listed Thursday by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics as a “toss-up.”
Political experts said it is still early, while adding that candidates should start feeling uneasy.
“Historically, they’re probably not in as bad condition as other candidates have been, but that probably doesn’t make you feel that much better when you’re the one trying to attract the attention,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political-science professor at the University of Central Florida.
Jewett noted that the Democratic candidates don’t have some of the advantages that the leading Republicans enjoy: Congressman Ron DeSantis has heightened his brand through repeated appearances on Fox News, while Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has the pulpit of his statewide elected office.
A pair of recent polls continue to highlight that most Florida voters still don’t know the leading Democratic contestants --- Levine, Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King.
Susan MacManus, a political-science professor at the University of South Florida, said it’s always tough to engage primary voters before the summer run-up to an election. This year, doubly so, as “election fatigue” continues from the 2016 presidential contest.
“They tell me there is no longer a breather between the end of one election and the start of the next,” MacManus said.
MacManus said the “real dilemma” amid a crowded field is that candidates must balance “one’s time and money to spend on TV versus online ads versus more traditional grassroots mobilization strategies like in-person appearances and mailers.”
Also, while people may talk of the money already spent by Levine, who built a personal fortune by running media companies in the cruise industry, it’s a fraction of what is expected to be spent in the contest.
In 2010, Gov. Rick Scott burned through $49.8 million --- from his own cash and the initial version of his political committee Let’s Get To Work --- to squeak past Republican establishment favorite Bill McCollum in the GOP primary.
“Levine doesn’t have to spend that much,” Jewett said. “Scott was in a position in which he was running against someone who was well known … whereas Levine has the, I’ll say, luxury of running against people that aren’t that well known.”
Each Democratic candidate has a regional base. Levine is a former Miami Beach mayor. Gillum is well-known in Tallahassee. King may be known around Orlando.
Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, is considered to have bases in North Florida and South Florida, due to her father. But Jewett noted Floridians outside the Tallahassee region haven’t voted on the Graham family name since 1998, the last time Bob Graham ran.
“For those of us who follow politics, the Graham name is still a well-respected name,” Jewett said. “He served in office 24 years, as a senator and governor, but it’s been 20 years. On the surface level, you’d think she should be ahead on shared name recognition. But think of all the people who have passed away since then that had voted for him. And the people that moved out and the young voters who have never voted for him and all the people that moved into the state.”
Speaking to the Florida State students on Tuesday, Levine said he’s running a 67-county campaign. But he added that the party’s last four gubernatorial candidates --- all defeated --- were from the Tampa Bay area as he pointed to geography in offering a simple summary of the contest.
“The bottom line is, you know the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and trying to get a different result. OK. The key for the Democrat is to be from South Florida, because that’s your base,” he said touting himself.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “JUST IN: Duval County Democratic chairman Lisa King accepts resignation of her husband and state committeeman John Parker after allegations he made racially offensive comments two months ago.” --- Julia Jenae (@JuliaJenaeFCN), reporter with First Coast News in Jacksonville on Wednesday.