The new Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives wants to shake things up. Richard Corcoran began his new role with a bang, bringing forward new House rules that include changes aimed at limiting the influence of lobbyists on the legislative process. And Florida TaxWatch is excited about his rules governing how legislators can get their local projects into the state budget.
The Speaker, addressing the House during the organizational session back in November, said the new member project rules are needed to due to an "epidemic level" of budget earmarks.
"No longer will we have to tolerate last-minute appropriations being stuck into our budget with little or no public scrutiny, in the waning hours of session, literally written on the back of a napkin that they got from the bar the night before," Corcoran told House members.
The Speaker’s comments about his motivation for the new appropriations rules echo the reasons Florida TaxWatch produces our annual Budget Turkey Watch report. The goal of that report is to promote accountability and transparency in the state’s budgeting process by highlighting appropriations that are placed in the budget with little or no debate or that violate an established selection process.
The new rules require a member to file a separate bill containing his or her member project request. In order for that appropriation to be eligible for inclusion in the House budget, the bill has to be approved by a House committee or subcommittee. The bill can only contain one appropriation project, cannot be amended and may only request non-recurring funds. A project request form is also required, which provides a summary of the project, as well as details on how the money will be spent and what the outcomes and benefits are expected to be.
The deadline for an appropriation project to be filed is the first day of session. As of Wednesday, January 25, 34 bills requesting $46.6 million have been filed.
This new process applies to any appropriation to a local government, private entity, or privately operated program. It also includes transportation projects that are not part of the Department of Transportation’s 5-year work program, education construction projects not submitted in the Commissioner of Education’s budget request, other college of university projects not requested by the Board of Governors or the State Board of Education, and local water projects.
It does not include appropriations specifically authorized in statute, that are part of a statewide local government distribution and that was part of statutorily required recommendations by a commission or council. Projects funded by recurring funds in the current budget are not subject to this process as long funding is not increased.
Kudos to the Speaker for trying to shine more light on the types of projects we have been putting in our Budget Turkey Watch Report. Any project that is considered and passed in committee will most likely not receive the Budget Turkey label.
But it takes two to tango. The Florida Senate has not adopted the same rules. The House rules say that any Senate budget that funds a project that was not filed as a bill (or uses recurring funds) is “out of order.” It will be interesting to see how this plays out this session.
One other possible loophole: Although a project bill must pass a committee to be included in the House budget, the bill only had to have been filed to be included in the conference budget. Although some information on the project will be public, this means we may still see projects that were not discussed or debated added to the budget at the last minute.
The new process will likely reduce, but not eliminate, Budget Turkeys; however, it is likely the added transparency will make it much more difficult for a member project with dubious benefit to be funded.
To again quote the Speaker: “And for those who find this rule to be too burdensome, here's my message: if you can't manage to convince even 1 of 120 House members to file your bill; if you can't withstand a few weeks of public scrutiny; if you don't have sufficient documentation to prove that the appropriation is legitimate --- then you don't deserve taxpayers' money.”
Florida TaxWatch could not agree with that sentiment more.