For many years legislators were required to at least document some evidence of a request for an earmark, or what was known as the "Community Budget Issue Request System." Legislators were required to fill out forms explaining a request a funding. One example: In 2008 Rep. Will Weatherford requested $3 million for a domestic violence center along with requests for nine other projects.
When the Great Recession caused a massive downturn in the economy there was a decision made by legislative leaders to shut down this effort.
"With the further decline in state revenues, it is my desire to avoid creating unrealistic funding expecations,'' wrote Senate President Jeff Atwater in a 2009 memo.
But even though the Florida Legislature has a budget surplus to work with this year there has been no move to return to this type of tracking system. Back in 2010 Democratic candidate for Chief Financial Officer Loranne Ausley suggested requiring the reinstatement of the system so that "politicians must own their pork spending."
As this story notes - there's no shortage of hometown projects in the roughly $75 billion budget that legislators are working on right now.
The question is how the project got there and whether members of the public and press can deduce the origins of something.
Let's take just one project: $10 million for the "FSU College of Engineering" that has been in the Senate budget a couple of weeks now.
This project - along with $3 million in operational money pushed by Sen. John Thrasher - caused a firestorm on the Senate floor on Thursday. Thrasher acknowledged that the $10 million was for a separate building on the Florida State University campus to help transition to a new engineering school apart from the current joint school operated with Florida A&M University.
FAMU officials strongly oppose any move to separate the two schools and several legislators said it hearkened back to a time when FAMU's law school was shuttered in the '60s and the funding was shifted to a new law school at FSU. Thrasher defended the move by noting the declining enrollment in the FAMU part of the program.
Traditionally it is up to the Senate and House appropriations chairman to be responsible for placing construction items that are part of what is known as the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) list in the budget.
When asked Sen. Joe Negron, the Senate budget chief, initially said that the money for the school was on the PECO list given to the Florida Legislature by the Board of Governors, the appointed panel that oversees the state university system.
"I believe the Board of Governors had okayed consideration of that request,'' Negron said.
Then when asked if the board had put in for a stand-alone FSU facility Negron said: "It came from us having a certain amount of fixed capital to spend and looking at all the potential places" and deciding to put it toward the stand-alone facility.
"I think it's good policy," Negron continued. "I think we are going to take a good engineering school and turn it into two great schools."
So the question remains: Did the Board of Governors suggest funding for this project?
The Board of Governors submitted a PECO list that calls for spending $30 million over the next two years for the construction of a new building to sit next to the two existing buildings that now make up the college. The House budget includes $15 million for the joint facility.
Furthermore a committee of the board last October was given a presentation on why a new $36 million building at the joint campus is needed.
The presentation prepared by FAMU & FSU officials contended that if funding were delayed there would be a "loss of propsective talented engineering students due to inadequate and outdated educational facilities including the current use of several temporary and dilapidated trailers/portables."
That's right - they are using portables at the current joint school.
Additionally the presentation states this: "The College has far outgrown its existing facilities. The College relies on outdated modular units to temporarily meet its space needs. Since the College is isolated from both main campuses it is difficult to share the resources of the libraries, auditorium, information and other student centered facilities."
State legislators changing the PECO list for universities is nothing new. It's how FSU got money to help build the University Center that now surrounds its football stadium. Legislative leaders have often used their clout to help universities in their own backyard.
But it also has led to some problems.
Atwater himself at the time defended the shutting down of the community budget system because he said it did not prevent the situation that happened when then-House budget chief Ray Sansom placed $6 million funding in the budget for his own hometown college for a project that turned out to be a hangar.
Sansom wound up being investigated over the deal although charges were eventually dropped after the judge in the case ruled that testimony from a key witness could not be used.
In the immediate aftermath, however, Atwater helped institute a policy that required college and university officials to publicly testify before the Legislature about what projects they actually needed and wanted on the PECO list.
Budget staff called it the "PECO Parade."
And guess what? The Legislature didn't do it last year. It would be a fair guess to suggest they won't do it this year either.