House Moves Forward With Plan To Gut Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida

Feb 8, 2017

Standing room only as House lawmakers discuss a proposal to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.
Credit Nick Evans

The Florida House is tightening the noose around two state agencies.  The idea faces high hurdles in the Senate and the governor’s mansion, but the fight sets the stage for big cuts as lawmakers develop spending plans.

House lawmakers have been skeptical of Enterprise Florida for a while—enough of them got together to sink new funding for the agency in last year’s budget.  But the critiques have grown louder because of a different agency.

Last December, House Speaker Richard Corcoran took aim at Visit Florida for its partnership with the Miami rapper Pitbull.  Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida have different missions—promoting tourism and attracting new businesses—but for lawmakers like Corcoran it comes to the same thing: picking winners and losers. 

“If the concept is that those who create jobs will all believe that picking winners and losers and having government engaged in the free market is a good thing,” Corcoran said at a press conference, “they haven’t read enough literature.”

It’s a point of contention between the Speaker and Florida Governor Rick Scott, who says the agencies are vital to growing jobs.  Corcoran was responding to Scott’s contention that abandoning incentive funding would cost the state when it comes to employment.

Both GOP lawmakers are thought to be looking to 2018—Corcoran to the governor’s mansion and Scott to the U.S. Senate—raising the stakes for the standoff. 

The newest escalation came in a House committee Wednesday.

“In order to get where we need to be,” Rep. Halsey Beshears explained, “sometimes we need to reset the budget to zero.  And that’s what we’re proposing here today.”

Beshears chairs the Careers and Competition Committee which took up and passed a proposal eliminating both agencies.

But in the Senate, lawmakers aren’t interested in the gamesmanship.  St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes says refocusing an agency like Enterprise Florida makes more sense than gutting it.

“There are many things that aren’t working and the economic development discussion is what’s pointing that out that we can do something better with those dollars,” Brandes says, “and I think that’s really focusing on where those investments need to be made in the future to provide us the best ROI for the state.”   

“And I think focusing on small businesses is what our team of economists is telling us that we should be doing that we’re not currently doing,” he says.

But while Senators mull ways to improve returns, increase transparency or reorient the agencies’ missions, Scott and Corcoran appear locked in an increasingly bitter stand-off.  Lawmakers from all quarters appear confident they can hash things out.  But the tenor of those negotiations could depend on how bruising the next few months get.