Road to nowhere: Metaphor for state legislature?

- The Florida Legislature was unusually divided in regular session this year. Lawmakers from one chamber accused lawmakers from the other chamber of failing their voters back home. Beyond the typical divide between Republicans and Democrats, the battle in Tallahassee revealed a sharp rift between the chambers and within Republican leadership, which dominates state government.

For example, the Florida House pressed for cuts to tax-credit programs it considers wasteful, while the Florida Senate accused the House of targeting programs that would reduce or slow job creation. That triggered some interesting exchanges throughout regular session. 

State Senator Jack Latvala said the house appears to have stumbled by drafting legislation that retains tax credits for the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine -- which gets a negative returns on investment based on a state analysis -- while cutting credits for programs that draw a better return based on the same analysis.

The House sponsor, Representative Paul Renner, said that was not an oversight. He said his legislation retained the golf tax credits because it's an existing program, and revoking it would expose the state to a lawsuit it would likely lose. The Golf Hall of Fame disputes the state budget analysis and says it delivers a strong return on the state's investment.

Meanwhile, the Florida House, under the leadership of Speaker Richard Corcoran, pressed for ethics reform and demanded changes in how individual representatives seek funding for specific projects. It is an attempt to prevent wasteful projects from slipping through the cracks -- by getting tucked into unrelated bills without the typical oversight.

On that note, we've investigated several cases of hidden projects that were passed, because state lawmakers did not realize they were tucked into the legislation. One of the most famous examples is a $50-million courthouse, derisively dubbed the Tallahassee Taj Mahal, tucked into a transportation project tin 2011.

But other hidden projects continue to slip through the process, like a dead-end road project last year in Alachua.  An anonymous lawmaker slipped this road project into an education budget, apparently on the hope that it would lure a company that never came.

"Just take some of your tax dollars and burn them, because that's what happened here," said Democratic state representative Janet Cruz.

The first leg of the road does provide access to a dirt road, which leads to the back end of a park. The rest of it juts into a padlocked gate then leads to a dead end. It cost state taxpayers $500,000.

House leadership took action this year to prevent similar projects in the future. The changes require legislators to file all of their funding requests under public scrutiny.

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