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Despite concerns now, Charlie Crist approved Taj Mahal courthouse. Three times

Gov. Charlie Crist is shocked -- shocked!-- that lawmakers in 2007 slipped money into the Florida budget to build what has become known as the Taj Mahal, the First District Court of Appeal building. Here's what he told a FOX station in Tampa: "Slipping something like that into the budget -- you know, secretly, essentially -- is always wrong. It's never appropriate."

But wait. Crist's office actually saw the appropriation in 2007 and never raised an objection. His internal records from the Office of Policy & Budget show that the item was attached to.... former House Speaker Ray Sansom, the budget chief at the time who was subsequently indicted for alleged wrongdoing in handling the state budget in another matter. The document, nicknamed the "turkey list," explicitly notes a $250,000 appropriation linked to an initial $33.5 million expenditure for the 1st DCA courthouse in HB985, a transportation-related bill.

Crist said he doesn't remember the appropriation in the state budget, but we know he closely reviewed the turkey list in 2007 because he proudly touted record vetoes of $459 million that year. To reach that eye-popping number, Crist used some creative math and counted a tuition fee increase worth $39 million -- even though that number wasn't in the budget document itself. Neither was all the DCA money (just $7.9m was), incidentally. Yet Crist chose not to veto it. Call that approval number 1.

Incidentally, the man who charged Sansom, Tallahassee prosecutor Willie Meggs, said he's presenting information about the courthouse to a grand jury today. Crist's allies are trying to link the project to former House Speaker Marco Rubio, his U.S. Senate opponent because he was singled out for thanks to in approving the project. But the Senate had a big hand in this. Crist's friend (but not relative) and political ally, Sen. Victor Crist, added the court house to HB 985 bill in the waning days of session. The First DCA judges, allies of Crist at the time as well, lobbied for the courthouse for years. And FSU, Crist's alma mater, did as well.

"It's pretty conclusive that, if there's something for the judicial branch that comes in under the Department of Transportation that's not exactly the most transparent place to put it," Crist said yesterday.

But Crist signed HB 985 on June 19, 2007 to make it law. The bill summary mentions the courthouse. Crist could have vetoed that, too.  Call that approval number 2.

Crist wasn't done supporting the project -- or at least not objecting to it. On Aug. 12, 2008 he voted for the bond for the courthouse at the State Board of Administration. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum moved to approve it. Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson seconded the motion. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who is now launching an inquiry, seems to have gone along. Call that approval number three.

Said Crist: "Moved and seconded. Show it approved without objection."

Until campaign season, that is.

 

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