House Republicans speak often about the need to stick to conservative principles, and 28 of them did it Wednesday by voting no on a bill (HB 1325) to restructure Florida's system of giving incentive money to companies in return for new jobs.
Thanks to Democrats, including every member of the black caucus in the House, Gov. Rick Scott avoided a major setback in hiis goal of getting more money for jobs. Black lawmakers want the state to boost job creation efforts in minority areas with high unemployment. But Scott still faces powerful House opposition in his bid for a new $250 million pot of incentive funds to attract jobs to Florida over the next three years.
The money is not in the House budget and the leader of the anti-incentives bloc in the House is Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, the appropriations chairman and incoming speaker. In a Times/Herald interview, he nodded approvingly at the use of the derisive term "corporate welfare" that critics such as Americans for Prosperity use to describe the use of cash and tax breaks in return for jobs.
"Yeah. I think we've been on record as saying that," Corcoran said, adding that a budget deal requires give and take on all sides. "Someone can't do all the taking. Someone can't do all the giving, and nobody should have to violate their principles to a large degree" or not at all, he said.
Even after a months-long campaign by Scott, he still can't close this key deal with his fellow Republicans.
Corcoran held up four fingers to make his point that spending tax money to attract jobs does not work. What businesses want, he said, are a strong regulatory environment, a good tax environment, quality schools and good infrastructure, period, and that incentives are a waste of money. "It's government engineering the marketplace," Corcoran said. "It absolutely is a distortion of free markets."
Corcoran voted against the bill as did Reps. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole; Frank Artiles, R-Miami; Danny Burgess, R-Brooksville; James Grant, R-Tampa; Matt Hudson, R-Naples; Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill; and Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. Ingoglia is chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and Oliva is in line to succeed Corcoran as speaker in 2018. The roll call vote on the bill is here.
Scott's new chief of the Department of Economic Opportunity, Cissy Proctor, predicts that in the end, the Legislature will agree to the $250 million. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, noted that after weeks of contentious budget talks last spring, the House agreed to $43 million in the current budget for the same incentive programs Corcoran and his allies now call "corporate welfare."
"We funded it last year," Gardiner said. "I'm glad everybody got religion."