Undercurrents | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


Taxpayer watchdogs in Florida call them "turkeys." Elsewhere these expensive and questionable projects tucked into budgets are called "pork." The state legislators here who don't kill these pet projects should be called "chickens," and we the taxpayers, of course, are the "pigeons."

The menagerie approach is laughable, but the wasted tax dollars -- millions that should be going to solve statewide problems in areas such as education, crime, and transportation -- are worth crying over.

But here along the luxurious Gold Coast, we just relax and recreate instead of griping about these new turkeys being proposed for this year's budget: $300,000 for a shuffleboard complex (whack!) in Pembroke Pines, another $300,000 for the Sunrise Tennis Club (fault!), and our favorite, $100,000 for something called a Slide and Glide Club (splash!) in Coral Springs.

These unnecessary projects are called "member initiatives" in the legislature, which means no state agency is requesting them and there's no statewide benefit. Politicos in the House and Senate produce the local turkeys to make constituents happy, which in turn gets them reelected. One senator in Pensacola has an astounding 32 projects up for funding this year, and during this session there's a total of $500,000,000 worth of turkey being requested. Let's hope Jeb Bush will carve down to the bone this week and veto most of it.

The cost of low-fat turkey: If $150 million of this were cut from the final budget, it could pay for 5000 new public school teachers or 40,000 new child-care slots. One can only fantasize.

The waste of still more Florida taxpayer money may have something to do with the recent failure of the so-called late-term abortion bill that never made it out of a Senate committee. The bill would have banned a controversial procedure called "partial-birth abortion," and the quick defeat surprised political hacks in Tallahassee because the bill was the darling of that new team made in heaven: Republican Governor Bush and the Christian Coalition. But a very similar bill that became law (over then-governor Chiles' veto) had just been struck down in federal court in November for being obviously unconstitutional. The price tag for the nonessential defense: $95,000 paid by taxpayers.

We found out that the Center For Reproductive Law and Policy based in New York City not only had the Florida law overturned for its clients but also successfully petitioned the court for fees and expenses. These cases are complicated and time-consuming, and a competent defense of a woman's constitutional right to abortion would rarely happen if there were no way of making back expenses. The Florida Attorney General's office negotiated the $95,000 in fees, never mind what it cost for the state's attorneys to waste time on this moral crusade.

The new bill facing the Senate was very similar, in fact almost identical, to the failed one, with only minor changes in wording. It didn't address key issues on which the federal judge had just ruled, including allowing a partial-birth abortion if needed to protect the mother's health. The legislature has its own highly paid legal advisors reviewing each of the bills for constitutionality; one wonders what kind of service they're providing.

-- as told to Tom Walsh

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