This week, Florida lawmakers and lobbyists are gathering at the Capitol at early hours of the morning and into late hours of the night. They are budget-conferencing, bringing together a small group of lawmakers to negotiate differences between the House and Senate budgets, the only bill they are required to pass each year. This arduous process often involves back-room deals and political horse-trading, all shielded from public oversight and accountability measures that typically apply to all official state business.
This complicated budget process is a crucial step to balancing a $75 billion budget, and though it may not give each legislator the opportunity to provide meaningful input, it is necessary to consolidate differences in funding levels. As president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog, I understand the necessity of this process, but it must be done in the most transparent way possible.
Often, during conference committee meetings, legislators will simply accept changes to the budget without questions, debate or public testimony. TaxWatch, as the eyes and ears of Florida taxpayers, supports measures to increase accountability and transparency in government,especially when taxpayers’ dollars are being appropriated.
Florida taxpayers should be able to follow their money as it moves through the appropriations process, and their lawmakers should be as clear as possible when they are doing so. TaxWatch encourages lawmakers to explain their reasoning when making changes to the budget during conferencing, and to abstain from introducing new, un-vetted projects during budget conferencing. When projects are added this late in the process, there is no way to ensure taxpayers will receive the anticipated public benefit.