Better Way to Shoot a Turkey

May 22, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

Published in: Sunshine State News

For 27 years now, Florida TaxWatch has been announcing its annual Turkey List. As a lobbyist who has specialized in putting “Member Projects,” as we like to call them, into the state budget, this is a time-honored process.

As a taxpayer I have long admired TaxWatch and its leader Dominic Calabro for his unwavering commitment to being a relentless watchdog of government spending and a tireless advocate for inciting more government efficiency. And as a proud TaxWatch board member for the last six or so years, I have come to realize that every state needs just such a group to hold elected – and unelected — officials accountable, which is why TaxWatch was recognized by its peers last year as the very best in the entire country!

I was dismayed to recently read Senate President Don Gaetz’s comments about TaxWatch and its Turkey List. I can understand his angst that some of his projects were on the list because I have often found many of my projects on the list as well, and I’ve spent countless hours over the years debating with Dominic and his staff the proper definition of a turkey. Suffice to say that I have yet to be successful in changing their minds and for that I have even greater respect for their perseverance in this cause of rooting out budget stuffing.

Having said that, I concur with the president and Sen. Joe Negron that elected officials have as much right as unelected bureaucrats to put items in the budget. I just wouldn’t have used the words that the president did in trying to make his point.

I’m conflicted because I deem myself to be a fiscal conservative but I also recognize that we elect our officials to make decisions on expenditures for the rest of us. Most of those decisions are extremely difficult to make as there are few easy choices to make in whether children will receive pre-K schooling from certified teachers or whether senior citizens will have the opportunity to access medical prescriptions at a competitive price. That’s why it’s so easy to criticize anyone that has to produce a budget because it’s always damned if you do or damned if you don’t.

However, I also want them to put hometown projects in the budget because it is part of the American way to use government funds to benefit us all in the form of a new park, a new fire engine for a rural community, funding for an efficacious social service program, a courthouse repair, etc. Interestingly, some I think are good, but many of them also seem a trifle expensive and very limiting in their overall economic impact, and I suspect that most of us would agree too. So, what’s a good fiscal conservative supposed to do?

TaxWatch makes a valid point, from its perspective, that the earlier an item is in the budget the more legitimacy it has. I understand that thinking completely, but I disagree with the premise. I actually believe that more legitimacy comes from the legislative branch which is constitutionally-driven to deliver a budget to the governor for his approval – or not.

Is it possible to have it both ways? Yes and former Gov. Jeb Bush, to his credit, devised a system called at that time Community Budget Issue Request (CBIR, pronounced “See-bur”) which required all legislators to submit a standard form which asked all of the relevant questions that a legislative body and a governor would want to know before it is approved. Is it for recurring revenue, what’s its past success statistics, is there a local match and if so what is the amount and ratio, is the organization a nonprofit, has it received funding before and what were those outcomes, etc.?

I don’t really recall when the CBIR form disappeared, probably during the term of Gov. Charlie Crist, but it seems readily apparent to me that we need to return to just such a system because it invokes transparency and accountability, the watchwords of today. Furthermore, it ensures that all projects are graded on an equitable basis going forward.

This came to mind when I saw that Gov. Rick Scott had recently written a letter to two Member Projects (I don’t like using the term “turkeys” though I have to admit that it’s catchy and understandable) asking them to return funds if they do not reach the high water marks that they set for themselves. This is what a good governor should do; hold the requesting agency to the standard that it set for itself when it requested the money. Just like any other Member Project that professes certain outcomes, these need to be measured and documented to ensure that taxpayers aren’t getting fleeced.

This is a reasonable compromise which satisfies both TaxWatch’s desire to see that projects are properly vetted, while at the same time ensuring the right of legislators to put projects into the budget. Sen. Negron is right when he says that many Member Projects are never approved and that this is what budget conference committees are all about. Likewise, TaxWatch is right that there needs to be a proper vetting for all projects.

There are always two sides to every story. While our elected officials are charged with producing a balanced budget, we also desperately need taxpayers to have their voices heard if we are to preserve this democratic process that has served us so well for these last 237 years. Neither may be always right, but both sides must always be heard because there is value to each in their respective philosophies.

The Hypocrisy of the Mainstream Media

May 21, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

As featured in Sunshine State News

The mainstream media have had it in for Gov. Rick Scott ever since he decided to run for office.

It was exacerbated when he decided to ignore the editorial boards which were, in hindsight, a smart decision because not a single one of them would have endorsed him in any event.

Now we all know that the governor is not a seasoned politician and for many voters that was part of his attraction. He’s not a polished speaker either, but he’s able to articulate his position to his followers, even though most, if not all reporters, are against everything he stands for.

The fact that he has carried out what he said he would do has only made matters worse for the left-of-center Florida press corps. As a result, the governor can’t get a fair shake even if he were a James Bond martini.

Recently, Gov. Scott proposed that Florida universities and colleges should establish a $10,000 college degree. Now this is something that every Floridian would desperately hope for in these very tough times, but to hear the press and critics report it, the governor was Wal-Mart-izing higher education. Never mind that Wal-Mart is the largest retail company in the world and an extraordinary success story. Somehow the governor was doing Florida wrong.

Yet, every state college eventually decided to accept the challenge and as a result, they will deliver a college degree for this reasonable sum. Had a Democratic governor or nominee proposed this idea, he would have been hailed as the second coming. But this GOP governor? Nope. Nada.

Recently, the governor decided to acquiesce to the will of the citizenry in allowing for the expansion of Medicaid with federal largess. The public is overwhelmingly in favor of this position. Interestingly, almost every reporter made it into a flip-flop with headlines blaring. Yet, just last week U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Mark Warner, both Republicans, decided to switch their position and support gay marriage. But national reporters, in favor of this left-of-center position didn’t chide either senator with a story of flip-flopping; no, they reported instead that their thinking had “evolved.”

Now, if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is. You see, how a reporter uses key code words will tell you exactly what you want to know about their political leanings. And for the Florida press corps, their unwritten rule is that Gov. Scott must be demonized every step of the way.

Since this governor has taken office, he has committed himself to just two things: that he will focus every day on creating jobs for Floridians and that he will always keep in mind the average citizen and what they need in order to survive this chaotic and lurching economy. So, the fact that the unemployment rate has gone significantly down is just a matter of fact, not the erstwhile work of a governor committed to job growth.

Yet, I will make a prediction right now, 19 months before the next election. Every newspaper, save perhaps one, will endorse the Democratic nominee who almost certainly will be Charlie Crist. For a long time I didn’t think that the Democratic establishment would accept Charlie, but recently, when former Gov. Bob Graham opined that he had no problem with Charlie becoming the nominee, it became clear to me that it is a fait accompli. It seems Democrats are willing to win at any cost, and so they are willing to embrace anyone despite their sordid past.

Whether it’s getting rid of numerous rules that make doing business in Florida challenging, or clearing the way for the Everglades cleanup, pouring state dollars into our ports to keep Florida at the forefront of economic competitiveness in exports/imports, supporting an across-the-board teachers raise and a proposed raise for state employees, it’s readily apparent that Gov. Scott will be cast in the harsh light of flip-flopping, rather than the genteel moniker of evolutionary thinking.

Regardless of what our governor does or says in the next two years, Florida-based reporters will try to paint a thin veneer of fairness.

Don’t be fooled.

It will all just be a façade, because they can’t wait to have a do-nothing, always-looking-for-the-next-job Charlie back in the governor’s mansion with his proverbial hand-over-his-heart mouthing, “I love Florida, I love Florida with all my heart.”

We were all fooled once and I certainly hope that we don’t get fooled again.