TaxWatch recommends that Gov. Scott veto four Manatee County 'turkeys'

Herald Staff WritersMay 24, 2014 

MANATEE -- Florida TaxWatch has listed four projects in Manatee County as budget "turkeys" that Gov. Rick Scott should veto.

The 2014 Budget Turkey Report, produced by the nonpartisan research institute Florida TaxWatch, contends Scott should veto a total of $120 million slated for projects statewide that are included in Florida's $77.1 billion budget.

Those targeted in Manatee include $100,000 for Bradenton's Bill Galvano One Stop Community Resource Center; $250,000 for the Community Coalition Hot Meal Program; $300,000 for an

emergency room diversion program at Manatee Memorial Hospital; and $250,000 for the Manatee River Fair Association Inc.

The One Stop Center would use the money for renovation of its free health care clinic, said Adell Erozer, executive director for the nonprofit Turning Points, which operates the center.

Plans call for enlarging its clinic space from three to eight exam rooms, adding a triage area, and extending its waiting room, said Erozer.

Asked whether her plans would change if the money from the state budget were vetoed, Erozer said, "We're going forward, no matter what, we'll raise money elsewhere, hopefully.

"We're doing this project because there's a huge need in the community, because there's so many people underserved and needing health care," Erozer added.

The Manatee County Fair is sponsored annually by the nonprofit Manatee River Fair Association.

Fair officials have been applying for a grant through the Department of Agriculture for six years to complete an exhibit hall. This is the first year the possibility of some funding has arisen, said Daniel West, manager for the Manatee County Fair.

Officials want to use the $250,000 to complete the building, which is mostly finished but still needs an updated electrical system and, more importantly, bathrooms and air conditioning.

"We'd love for the rest of the community to use it, and other groups have contacted us," West said. "But most don't want to use it because of the lack of A/C."

Manatee Memorial Hospital's chief, Kevin DiLallo, was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment about the $300,000 emergency room program listed by TaxWatch, according to an assistant.

Similarly, information about the hot meal program was not available Friday.

TaxWatch defines "turkeys" as items that don't go through a thorough enough budget process. The label is not meant to be associated with a project's worthiness.

The total amount of "turkeys" total less than a quarter of 1 percent of the state budget.

The main criticism of all four items listed for Manatee County was that they were added in a conference committee session, where differences in budget versions between the Florida House and Senate are worked out. The conference process is not meant to add new items, according to Kurt Wenner, TaxWatch's vice president of tax research.

Items added in conference don't get a thorough vetting because there are no votes or debate; they aren't always public, and no amendments can be made once compromises are made.

"Florida TaxWatch commends the Legislature for creating a balanced budget that meets the needs of many of our citizens and returns money to Florida's hard-working taxpayers through tax cuts, but as the taxpayers' watchdog, it is our responsibility to disclose each of the projects that did not receive adequate scrutiny during the budget process," said Dominic M. Calabro, TaxWatch's president and CEO.

The research institute has published reports on budgets for the past 28 years.

It identified $106 million worth of "turkeys" in the 2013 budget, and the governor vetoed $71.1 million of those turkeys.

In 2012, it identified $171 million worth, and the governor vetoed $63 million worth of those.

Sara Kennedy, Herald county reporter, can be reached at skennedy@bradenton.com or 941-745-7031.

Kate Irby, Herald online reporter, can be reached at kirby@bradenton.com or 941-745-7055.

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