This got some quick attention earlier this week but it merits a bit of discussion.
Florida legislative leaders announced that for the third year in a row that they won't allow fellow legislators to put in community budget requests -- or the Tallahassee version of earmarks.
The rationale from House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos was that the state's ongoing fiscal crisis means that allowing members to file in such requests would "create unrealistic funding expectations for the coming year."
There's no doubt that the coming year will be tough again. Lawmakers will head into the spring session with a projected budget shortfall that could range anywhere from $2.5 billion to as small as $828 million depending on what legislators decide to fund.A key factor is that chunks of the federal stimulus will drop out of the budget.
State law allows for community budget issue requests. This is a process where cities, counties as well as private and non-profit organizations can request funding for items like, oh, astroturf for a South Florida flag football league.
But local projects can still get funded without these community budget requests, even in tough budget years. There were several local projects that were placed in the state budget by powerful legislators during the 2010 session.
The only difference is that without the community budget requests it's much harder to figure out where they came from and who wanted them.
CBIR's as they are also known usually require a lawmaker to list the background of a project and even the names and phone numbers of those who are asking for the money. The item is also supposed to include whether it was requested by a state agency or has local matching money.
The one caveat, however, is that top leaders, including House speakers and Senate presidents rarely attach their name to CBIR's even though they wind up being instrumental in getting millions set aside to their own pet projects.
During the 2010 campaign season Democrat Loranne Ausley, a candidate for Chief Financial Officer, said that the Legislature should reinstate the system of requiring the community budget requests so that "politicians must own their pork spending." She ripped then Senate President Jeff Atwater for jettisoning community budget issue requests.
When asked about it this fall, Atwater was fairly dismissive of Ausley's ideas.
He noted that back in 2007 - the year that former Rep. Ray Sansom put in money for a $6 million hangar and the year that lawmakers put together a controversial bond deal for the First DCA Courthouse - that the Legislature did use the community budget requests but that things got in the budget anyway.
The hangar, of course, led eventually to Sansom's indictment while the courthouse continues to generate headlines.
Atwater contends the changes that lawmakers used during the last two sessions are superior. This included unveiling budget conforming bills in public meetings and forcing university officials to appear at a public hearing to make requests for construction dollars.
The question is whether or not Cannon or Haridopolos will retain these practices. The new Senate and House rules passed last week were silent on how lawmakers will handle the budget conferences during the 2011 session.
House and Senate staff have suggested that they will likely handle it as they did this past spring, but there's been no official word yet.