In the wake of the Great Recession legislative leaders pulled the plug on the process that helped the public know a little bit about where items stashed in the budget came from.
For various reasons, and despite some Democrats decrying the amount of pork contained in the state budget, legislators have not reinstated the process known as "community budget issue requests" even as the economy has steadily recovered.
Well this year is turning out to be a bit different.
Rep. Richard Corcoran, the Pasco County Republican now in charge of the House budget, is helping the House push ahead with changes in the budget process.
Corcoran on Jan. 30 emailed House members and told them that if they wanted something in the 2015-16 budget they needed to answer a series of questions about the project.
"It is important that we have complete information about any issue that receives an appropriation," Corcoran wrote. His email then laid out a lengthy list of questions that needed to be answered including whether the project had gotten state money before and whether the money was needed for construction or other capital outlay costs.
Corcoran made it clear that he expected the summary because "it my expectation that budget issues are thoroughly vetted."
When asked about it Corcoran explained that both he and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli wanted to bring back "transparency" into the budget process.
Corcoran's email apparently caused quite a bit of discussion among legislators.
On Feb. 10, he emailed members again, explaining that he had heard from members who wondered what kind of budget issue actually required information that needed to be turned over.
"Because any description I may offer could lead to misunderstanding, my suggestion to you is - when in doubt, complete the summary,'' Corcoran wrote.
Then Corcoran went further: He also included a "House Internal Member Project Policy" that explained what types of projects would be included in the House's budget.
And included in this list of eight criteria is a potential big shift for Capitol insiders.
In order for any item to be in the budget it must "be clearly displayed in the appropriations bill either by proviso of by unique appropriation category which identifies the project."
In other words, any attempt to roll an item into the base, or have it tucked in a larger appropriation will not be allowed.
The criteria also stated that priority consideration would be given to projects seeking one-time funding, have matching dollars and do not contain any construction money unless it for the "construction, improvement, maintenance or repair of state-owned infrastructure or other facilities as authorized by general law." This is similar to a budget policy that former Gov. Jeb Bush had where he was skeptical about handing out state money for something that would not be owned by the state.
It is worth noting _ as Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has _ that just having a process like this would not prevent questionable behavior.
When he was Senate President Atwater noted that legislators had a process at the time that Ray Sansom was the House budget chief. Questions were raised about money that the Destin Republican steered into the budget for a project that was seen as beneficial to a Republican donor. Sansom wound up resigning from his speaker's post _ and the Legislature. He was charged by authorities, but they were dropped when a judge refused to allow a key witness testify.
But it's clear this new House process will require that legislators have their names attached to a earmark request in the state budget.
This process is not in place over in the Florida Senate.
But that doesn't mean that some senators aren't taking their own steps to bring more exposure to budget items.
Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican in charge of the transportation and economic development portions of the budget, held a public hearing this past week where roughly 50 individuals around the state were required to testify about local projects they wanted state money for.
Latvala said he made the decision to require public testimony in order to counter any suggestions that budget items were slipped in - and therefore were "budget turkeys" - which is Tallahassee-speak for pork.
"This gives everything a public airing and I think it's important for the members to hear what I hear,'' Latvala said.
The hearing attracted a lengthy list of local officials, including county commissioners such as Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa coming in to ask for state help.
Marion County Commissioner Kathy Bryant may have had the most interesting request during the nearly three-hour meeting.
Bryant said that Marion County wanted nearly $2 million to buy land located in Ocklawaha that was the site of a famed shootout with the FBI that left famed criminal Ma Barker dead. The 2-story house that that was the site of the 1935 shootout still has bullets imbedded in the walls and includes furniture from the time. Bryant said that Marion wanted to make it part of a law-enforcement museum and wanted to acquire it to prevent "further degradation."
She added there is a strong interest in "crime memorabilia" and that when it was opened up to the public on the 50th anniversary that 5,000 people visited.
When she was done, Latvala quipped: "You did all that with a straight face." He then joked a little later about Marion County seeking money so it could honor "a criminal."
Latvala warned afterwards that he wasn't sure how many, if any, of the projects seeking money this year would be included in the budget. That was a nod to the ongoing tug-of-war over health care funding that has created budget problems this year.
But at least there now exists some records on the origins of what projects may wind up in the final budget.