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Clay, Duval, SJC projects all on watchdog veto list

When you’re looking at a total package of $74.5 billion, it’s not bad to say a watchdog group only found roughly $107 million in “turkeys”, but a chunk of those questions come right back here to the First Coast.

Florida TaxWatch has put out its annual list of items it wants the Governor to veto, largely because they didn’t go through the usual channels, and therefore may not have received all the appropriate scrutiny by their standards.

“We want to make sure everything that’s placed in the budget follows the procedures that are in place,” says TaxWatch Tax Research VP Kurt Wenner.

He says, overall, the group is happy to see the legislature didn’t go overboard in spending.  Even though there was a surplus this year, there were fewer turkeys identified than the prior two years. Wenner says they expected to find more.

Of that $107 million, there are five project in Clay, St. Johns and Duval counties that should have funding pulled, according to TaxWatch. The total for the projects falls at just under $2 million.

St. Johns County would have the most to lose if the Governor adopts the recommendation, however it would be a short term loss.  Two of the projects there include $750,000 for Alcazar Hotel/Lightner Museum restoration and $300,000 for Ximenez-Fatio House Museum restoration. 

“These two items have actually been approved for a grant next year, and they’ve been ranked number one and number two,” Wenner says.

The funding next year added to their late placement in the budget landed them on the turkey list, although Wenner says next year they’d be safe.  Another SJC project to make the list is $400,000 for Flagler College/Dining Hall/Hotel Ponce de Leon.

Duval County’s loss would be smaller, but more directly felt. TaxWatch wants Scott to veto $100,000 for Justice Coalition crisis counseling, referral, education and advocacy programs.  Wenner says having the program on the list is not any commentary on the worth of the project, just the process behind getting the funding.  This item was added in conference committee, meaning the bill it was put in had already gone through most of its vetting, so the project wasn’t scrutinized as much.

Clay County’s project is actually part of an ongoing debate on state allocations. Right now, $300,000 is budgeted for restorations at the Clay County Courthouse.  Wenner says the state is not obligated to help with local projects like these, and this could possibly even be eligible for historic funding. If the state decides it does want to help fund these types of local projects, however, he says there should be a system in place to decide which projects get money and how much.

“Whether the legislature should do that or not is up for debate,” he says.

Last year, Scott adopted more than half of their recommendations. The year before he adopted 83%.  Wenner says there’s no crystal ball that will let him know how many Scott will take up this year, but he holds hope there will be many.

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