Undeterred by an unusual tonguelashing from Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Legislature today continued a two front war on his biggest priorities: job creation programs and tourism marketing.
State Sen Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, kicked off the action by holding a hearing that outlined how taxpayers are shouldering more of the load in funding the state's business recruitment agency, Enterprise Florida, despite claims that the private sector is a partner. While taxpayers spent $25 million to fund Enterprise Florida, the private sector put up just $4.8 million. That's less than 20 percent of Enterprise Florida’s funding coming from the private sector.
But Brandes’ committee was just a tame sample of what was expected to be a much harsher critique of Enterprise Florida later. The Florida House later today is expected to take up a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida completely.
Scott has been fuming about the Legislature’s opposition to a pair of agencies he says are key to Florida’s economic turnaround since 2010. On Tuesday Scott held a 15 minute venting session with reporters that questioned the Legislature's motives and warned that they were on the cusp of greatly damaging the state's economic momentum.
“Why in gods green earth would anybody think we should go back to that,” Scott said of 2010 when the state’s unemployment rate was in double digits.
Scott proposed a budget last week that calls for $85 million for Enterprise Florida to give tax incentives to companies to relocate and grow in Florida. He's also called for continuing record funding - $76 million - for Visit Florida.
The assault on those programs has provoked a response from both supporters and opponents of both agencies. More than 50 local economic development groups from around the state were planning to pack hearing rooms in Tallahassee to stress the key role incentives play in small and medium sized companies relocating to Florida.
The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce is among those who issued a “call to action” to its members to pressure the House to back off their efforts to gut both agencies.
But on the flip side, the Americans for Prosperity of Florida was also planning to pack the room in support of ending government incentives to businesses of all sorts.
House Republicans (and some in the Senate) have criticized both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. House Speaker Richard Corcoran said both programs are forms of “corporate welfare” because they divert tax dollars to private businesses.
“There won't be any incentives in the budget,” Corcoran said last week.
Both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida have faced major upheavals over the last 12 months. Both agencies have pushed out their highly paid CEOs and have been warned by Scott to clean up their finances and their overall transparency.
Enterprise Florida was faulted by auditors for overspending on office space, management and travel expenses plus for lacking proper financial controls. Visit Florida meanwhile has come under fire for some spending more than $5 millions to advertise the state on a race car, with a British soccer team and in a music video with pop star Pitbull.