House spending reforms help protect Florida taxpayers from pork-barrel projects

House spending reforms help protect Florida taxpayers from pork-barrel projects

As state lawmakers eye a $2.75 billion revenue shortfall, spending reforms in the state House simplify the budget process and put a damper on inflated budget requests.

Florida state lawmakers face an estimated $2.75 billion shortfall after tax revenues took a hit in the wake of COVID-19. But that has changed little about which local projects lawmakers in Tallahassee would like to see funded.

As lawmakers begin to prepare from the new legislative session beginning in March, they are also proposing hometown projects to be included in the forthcoming year’s budget.

As of Feb. 8, House lawmakers had already proposed 653 projects costing more than $657 million. Senators have submitted 210 forms seeking projects totaling a more than $290 million price tag. Some recent requests include $1.2 million to restore the fourth floor of Tampa’s Cuban Club and $500,000 for a history museum exhibit.

However, this year’s budget process will look different for state lawmakers in Tallahassee. New spending reforms spearheaded by House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, will streamline the process and make it easier to clamp down on inflated cost spending.

While the state Senate uses forms for lawmakers’ hometown project funding requests, lawmakers in the House file a bill for each project. The House has also required that many of the requests appear before at least one committee.

Last year, House lawmakers filed more than 1,600 bills requesting nearly $2.3 billion in funding to bring back to their districts.

Sprowls’s streamlined spending reforms will allow the bills to be put on a consent agenda and be all voted on at one time instead of individually. The new rules also prohibit proposals from receiving less than 50% of requested amounts.

To protect against inflated funding requests, Sprowls is requiring those seeking funding to attest in writing to the House Public Integrity & Election Committee that the funding requests are accurate and reflective of need.

“Projects are funded by taxpayer dollars, and entities should not be allowed to inflate their funding requests as if they were in a private negotiation,” Sprowls wrote to House lawmakers Nov. 9.

Other lawmakers are already warning that this year’s budget will have be slimmer than past years. “This is going to be the year that we’re going to have to figure out how we can make sure we meet the things that help the most people of this state that we serve, with the limited resources that we have,” said Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis was presented the previous budget last June, it included more than 750 such projects – totaling more than $400 million. DeSantis vetoed $264 million-worth of local projects in a bid to cut back on spending during the pandemic.

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