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Ahead of 'turkey' list, Senate president rips Florida TaxWatch

It's an annual tradition in Tallahassee: the list of budget "turkeys" assembled by Florida TaxWatch, the self-styled watchdog group funded with large donations from the business community that undertakes a systematic review of pork-barrel projects and how they got in the budget.

And here's another Tallahassee tradition: Legislators criticizing TaxWatch for its turkey list.

TaxWatch has to move a lot faster this year because Gov. Rick Scott has less time than usual (eight days and counting) to sign the new state budget. It's a well-known fact that TaxWatch shares its drafts of turkeys with Scott's staff, in hopes that the governor's office will closely follow TaxWatch's recommendations, which would enable TaxWatch to claim that the governor relies on the group for advice.

TaxWatch traditionally flags as turkeys those projects that appeared for the first time in the late-session conference committee process or which non-competitively narrowly benefit one part of the state. TaxWatch no longer defines a turkey as a project not listed in an agency's LBR or legislative budget request -- a criterion that infuriated legislators, who say that they are far more knowledgeable about the needs in their districts than an invisible Dilbert in some bureaucratic cubicle in Tallahassee, let alone a "paid group" like TaxWatch.

TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro says this year's turkey list will be abundant, and it's sure to include several items championed by Senate President Andy Gardiner.

"It doesn't matter to me what TaxWatch thinks about anything, to be quite honest,'' Gardiner, R-Orlando, told reporters. "The governor has every right as governor to make adjustments to the budget, and I'm certain that he will. But, at the end of the day, every member of the Legislature, whether it's a House member or a senator … they know their district better than some paid group like TaxWatch. For most of us, it just doesn't matter to us. What matters to me is my district."