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Florida TaxWatch identifies $170M in turkey spending

Florida TaxWatch called on Gov. Rick Scott Friday to veto $150 million in hometown projects lawmakers stuck into the budget this year.

The tax watchdog group urged Scott to review, but not necessarily veto, another $20 million in projects that didn't go through the legislative review process.

The list of 159 items contains earmarks, known as turkey or pork, generally championed by a single legislator and meant for local, rather than statewide benefit.

The projects still thrive in the face of $1.4 billion in spending cuts and thousands of eliminated state jobs.

And in an election year, lawmakers may feel extra pressure to prove their worth by bringing money home for their districts.

Last year, TaxWatch identified $203 million in turkeys, and Scott vetoed 83 percent, said Dominic Calabro, the organization's president.

So what would TaxWatch choose for this year's chopping block?

For starters, $5 million for Miami's Design District and $500,000 for the Bay of Pigs Museum in Miami.

Also on the list: $100,000 for the Autism Center of Miami, $250,000 for the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Broward, and $500,000 for the Dan Marino Project, a Miami foundation to help autistic kids.

In the Tampa Bay area, big ticket items include $6.9 million for the University of South Florida-Heart Health Institute, $2.5 million for St. Petersburg College science labs and classrooms, and $150,000 for the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Pete.

The list also contained some twists.

For example, TaxWatch identified $5M for a world-class regatta in Sarasota as turkey, but recommended further review by the governor, rather than a veto.

Robert Weissert, TaxWatch's vice president for research, said that's because the issue came up last year and emerged early this year.

"The classic turkey is one where everybody says what the heck is that," he said. "This was on people's radar screens throughout the process, it was more of a grey area."

The creation of Florida Polytechnic as the state's 12th university also didn't make the list because it went through so much legislative debate, Calabro said.

"The Polytechnic thing is really the definition of what a turkey isn't," Calabro said. "It had substantive legislation behind it, it was reviewed all the way through the process."

Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who pushed hard for the university and lobbied Scott Thursday to discourage a veto, called Calabro weeks ago to ask if Polytechnic was on the list. 

"We're going to get criticized either way," Calabro said. "It's our job to play it as straight as we possibly can."