DeSantis: Lawmakers must cut fat from political pork barrel spending

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State lawmakers got another message to expect a lean year for bringing home budget bacon.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former congressman, used a Washington, D.C. last week in saying “earmarks” would need to be cut by $84.8 million to help pay for his proposed record $91.4 billion budget.

While described as targeting “recurring” requests, mostly in education areas of the budget, DeSantis’ proposed cuts could leave space for about $200 million in spending from among the more than $1 billion that has already been pitched by legislators for local programs and projects.

Such spending is often derided as pork or, in a Tallahassee term, “turkeys” because of how it gets into the budget or its statewide relevance.

DeSantis’ proposed reduction in earmarks came after House and Senate budget leaders urged “restraint” from lawmakers in filing appropriations requests. State economists have forecast an economic slowdown that will result in Florida bringing in about $867 million less in revenue over two years than previously projected.

House Speaker Jose Oliva used the phrase “fiscal restraint” in praising DeSantis’ overall budget proposal, which is an initial step as lawmakers prepare to negotiate a 2020-2021 spending plan during the upcoming legislative session.

Meanwhile, Senate President Bill Galvano issued a statement noting that his chamber will use the final pre-session committee week in December to hear formal presentations on the governor’s budget proposal. Galvano said he’s also waiting for updated calculations about state revenues and costs from economists.

“We are closely monitoring the next round of consensus estimating conferences, which will provide important updates in terms of anticipated needs in each area of the budget,” Galvano wrote. “We are also anticipating a new general revenue estimate, which will indicate if there has been a change in the amount of revenue available to meet those needs.”

A day later, House members had filed 952 appropriations proposals, collectively totaling $1.29 billion.

In the Senate, 341 proposals had been submitted, totaling $421 million.

The proposals range from a high of $50 million that Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican, is seeking for water-quality improvements in Brevard County (HB 2053) to a $10,000 ask by Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a Davie Democrat, for Art in the Workplace of Broward County (HB 2021).

More than one-third of the proposals that have been filed seek $1 million or more.

Most of the spending proposals will be scrapped by the time House and Senate leaders finish negotiating a budget in March.

But in five pre-session committee weeks that have been held in advance of the 2020 Legislative Session, which begins Jan. 14, House panels backed 207 of the bills, which collectively seek $239.2 million. None drew a vote in opposition.

Republicans, who control the House, accounted for 150 of the bills that have moved forward, worth a total of $204.6 million. Democrats have seen 57 proposals, collectively worth $34.6 million, draw House subcommittee endorsements.

The proposals by Fine and Gottlieb were among those that got support.

For the current fiscal year that started July 1, the $90.98 billion budget contains about $270 million for 440 local projects and programs.

That spending was culled from more than 1,600 House proposals and a near equal number of Senate proposals that were submitted for the 2019 Legislative Session. House members were looking for $3.7 billion to bring home. Senators had sought more than $3.2 billion.

The numbers were partially inflated by Panhandle lawmakers seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for communities devastated by Hurricane Michael in 2018.

Still, nearly 600 proposals, worth a combined $400 million, were included in the spending plan legislators delivered to DeSantis in May. DeSantis used his line-item veto to slash more than 160 proposals, worth $130 million.

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