State Politics

Watchdog: Jobs program is a ‘turkey’

MANATEE — A proposed $1 million pilot jobs program for Manatee and four Florida counties has been flagged as a “turkey” plan in Florida’s proposed 2010-11 budget.

Florida Taxwatch, a state government watchdog group, released its annual list of “turkeys” — proposed projects that the group believes avoided the proper process of legislative approval.

The group asked Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the turkeys.

“When we circumvent the process, we can’t be sure that it’s the most efficient plan or the most needed,” said Robert Weissert, spokesman for the group.

The pilot jobs program, put in the budget by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, is similar to a bill proposed earlier by the representative that would have increased alcohol taxes to fund a statewide jobs program for at-risk teenagers.

That bill died in the Economic Development Policy Committee on April 30.

“It was clear that it was going to be difficult to pass a tax bill during an election year, even to provide jobs to youth,” Rouson said Monday afternoon, citing stiff opposition from the beer and liquor industry as reason for the bill’s death.

Rouson declined to comment further on the job program in the proposed budget.

According to Florida Taxwatch, the funding inserted by Rouson also is a “turkey” because it would be spent solely in Manatee, Sarasota, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties — parts of which comprise Rouson’s district.

The Department of Juvenile Justice, listed in the budget as the program’s administrator, did not request the funding.

“Since we didn’t ask for it, we don’t really have any details,” said Samadhi Jones, spokeswoman for the department, also declining further comment.

The project was one of 41 projects marked as “turkeys” this year, totaling $61 million. This is up from $15 million in the 2009-10 budget, but down from the more than $200 million per year highlighted by Florida Taxwatch in proposed budgets during seven out of the past 10 years.

“If you’re looking for a pattern (in big turkey years), it would be a difference between good budgets and tight budgets,” Weissert said.