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No-new-taxes budget laden with 'member projects'

Florida legislators finished work on a $69-billion budget moments before midnight Monday after agreeing on a final blitz of spending for Everglades restoration, Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and a slew of local projects that seemed to sprout out of nowhere at the very last minute.

The business of writing a budget was more open this year than in the past as lawmakers seek to wipe away the stain left by ex-Speaker Ray Sansom's furtive stockpiling of cash for a Panhandle college. But one thing hasn't changed: Hometown pork still shows up (literally, this year) at the 11th hour with no public discussion and nobody can be bothered claiming authorship of specific projects -- many of which this year are in Miami-Dade and Broward.  

"I wouldn't necessarily name them all as projects," said Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, the House budget chief, who ran the meetings after he jetted home from D.C. on a charter flight from a fund-raiser for his Congressional campaign "I think that's relative. We tried to make it balanced in these offers, to have spending that has a statewide impact."

The budget that hits lawmakers' desks Tuesday has only a paltry $1.22 increase in per pupil spending for education and it is laden with cuts to substance abuse and mental health programs. But the budget will include $8.5-million for a Florida A&M Crestview Education Center, in the district of Sen. Durell Peaden; $3.5 million for a neuroscience center at Florida International University; $2-million for FIU's Center for Ethics and Professionalism; $1-million for Fort Lauderdale's Discovery Center museum; $800,000 for storm water improvements in the River Oaks neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale; and $150,000 for emergency generators for the town of Golden Beach in Miami-Dade. 

-- Steve Bousquet