When a key a committee in the Florida House voted this week to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, every Republican on the panel agreed -- except one.
The Sarasota Republican knows he’s on an island fighting against one of the top priorities of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Gruters not only was the sole member of the GOP to vote against the idea, but sounded every bit like Gov. Rick Scott in defending Enterprise Florida during the hearing.
“Jobs, jobs jobs,” Gruters said just moments before committee voted to kill the agency. “The state wins when we bring targeted industries to our communities. We will have another economic downturn and we need to do everything we can to diversify our economy.”
Gruters speech - just like Scott’s plea days earlier - did nothing to stop the outcome. The Careers & Competition Committee voted 10-5 for the bill that would kill both agencies. Nine Republicans and one Democrat (Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami) voted for the bill. Gruters and four Democrats voted against it.
“I’m not trying to poke the Speaker,” Gruters told the Times/Herald after the vote. “I’m just doing what I think is right.”
Gruters, who was an early supporter of Scott’s in his 2010 campaign for governor, said he still has great respect for Corcoran as a principled conservative. And he said Corcoran deserves a lot of credit for even letting him be on the subcommittee that would hear the bill, knowing that Gruters was going to ardently defend Scott’s top priority. Instead of blocking him, Gruters said Corcoran put him on the committee and has encouraged him to legislate like he campaigned.
“I’m one of the few Republicans who campaigned on Enterprise Florida and incentives,” Gruters said.
During a bruising primary in August, Gruters, who is in his first year in the Legislature, narrowly defeated a tea party activists who had campaigned against Scott’s economic incentives program.
Gruters said he understands why Corcoran and other Republicans are trying to eliminate incentives, but he said without them Florida will not be able to compete with other states that are using incentives to convince companies to move. He cites Feld Entertainment in Manatee County as one of the success stories. Feld has created hundreds jobs based in Ellenton since moving from Virginia - good paying jobs that are helping boost other area businesses in the area like gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants. Without incentives, Gruters said Florida will lose out on such companies. (Last month Feld announced it was ending the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, resulting in one of the largest layoffs of workers in Florida in two years.)
“How do we expect to compete with other states, if we eliminate this tool as an option?” Gruters asked Rep. Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville, who presented the plan to kill Enterprise Florida during the committee meeting last week.
Renner said Florida can attract businesses by continuing to cut taxes and regulations to show Florida has a friendly business climate. He said government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace, which he says the state does when it unfairly gives money to one company over another.
Gruters said he doesn’t agree and will keep pressing the case against killing both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, even if he is the only Republican in the House supporting Scott’s top priority.
The bill still has a long way to go. It will have more House committee stops and the Florida Senate has shown no signs of picking up the idea. Even if it were to pass both chambers, the idea would have to go to Scott, who could veto the measure.
How They Voted
Here is how members of the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee voted on a bill that would kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.
YEA: Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello; Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral; Randy Fine, R-Brevard County; Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice; Roy Hardemon, D-Miami; Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa; Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud; Alexandra Miller, R-Sarasota; Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville; Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City.
NAY: Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee; Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee; Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota; Al Jacquet, D-Lantana; David Silvers, D-West Palm Beach