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Government watchdog gives Florida’s $101.6B high marks

While a new record is set almost every year, Florida TaxWatch said the growth this time is the largest by percentage in 15 years.
While a new record is set almost every year, Florida TaxWatch said the growth this time is the largest by percentage in 15 years.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The implementation of Florida’s record-setting state budget began this week.

The 2021-22 budget process was unlike any other.

Florida TaxWatch said it began with lawmakers wondering where the money was going to come from in a pandemic. It ended with them wondering how to spend all the money.

“The Florida Legislature did a phenomenal job with the very difficult deck of cards they were dealt,” said Dominic Calabro, CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

His organization has been a non-partisan government watchdog for more than 40 years.

Calabro said good financial stewardship by elected leaders in Florida deserves some credit for the state’s $101.6 billion budget.

“That together with the fact that they were handed about $10 billion of the federal funds from the Congress, which the President signed into law, helped us tremendously,” he said. “But it’s also because we are on a solid footing. We don’t spend money we don’t have. Our constitution prevents that.”

TaxWatch points out in the numbers that Florida’s budget which began July 1 is a 10% increase over 2020, something initially unthinkable because of the pandemic.

Calabro said gross domestic product actually increased to more than a trillion dollars.

“About the 16th, or 17th largest economy if Florida was a country. So we are very, very fortunate,” he said.

TaxWatch puts out a Budget Turkeys list urging the governor to veto items before signing the budget.

Budget Turkeys are defined by TaxWatch as items, usually local member projects, placed in individual line-items or accompanying provisional language that are added to the final appropriations bill without being fully scrutinized and subjected to the budget process.

One of the examples was opposing a $3.5 million dune restoration project for Ponte Vedra Beach.

“The whole reason is transparency, accountability, following the budgetary processes and the integrity of that budget process,” Calabro said. “Many of these projects, like that restoration, probably very valuable and beneficial, we don’t really know because it wasn’t vetted in the same fashion that like-minded projects go through. So it’s not an assessment of the worthiness of the project, it’s all about the integrity of the budget process.”

While a new record is set almost every year, Florida TaxWatch said the growth this time is the largest by percentage in 15 years.

You can see the entire interview with Calabro on This Week in Jacksonville. News4Jax also speaks with the president of the newly named Edward Waters University, Sunday at 9 a.m.


About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.