A fight over conservative principles in the Florida Capitol took an interesting turn this week, sweeping up the rapper Pitbull and even landing on the celebrity gossip site TMZ. The fight over economic development programs hints at the conflicts that could drive the upcoming session.
Florida legislators are making their voices heard on the issue of state tax incentives and private partnerships. New Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran is leading the charge against the state-funded tourism agency Visit Florida, and economic developer Enterprise Florida. Corcoran is a free market idealist and believes government shouldn’t pick winning and losing businesses by handing out tax dollars.
“They’re not consistent with our principles, and that’s what we’ve talked about, that principles matter. And the facts bear out that they really don’t succeed,” Corcoran said.
This week Corcoran took aim at a private contract between Visit Florida and the rapper Pitbull. The state hired Mr. 305 to promote Florida on social media, at concerts, and in his music video Sexy Beaches.
But up until this week, just how much Visit Florida paid Pitbull was a “trade secret”. The idea that the taxpayers weren’t allowed to know how their money was spent drove Speaker Corcoran to sue. His complaints against the rapper even landed on the entertainment tabloid website TMZ. The tussle ended somewhat abruptly this week when Pitbull released the contract on twitter. The grand total? One million dollars. But some of Corcoran’s criticisms still stand.
“It’s a funny thing. No tourists came through 1996. Then in 1996 we formed this agency, and we started giving them money, and then we started getting tourists. Fascinating how that works,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran has even threatened to gut the programs if his demands for transparency aren’t met. Essentially, this feud is a proxy war between legislators and the Governor. Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida are central to Rick Scott’s jobs programs, the backbone of his administration. Attacking those programs sends a strong message. But Scott agrees Visit Florida should be more transparent. Since the conflict, the agency has fired two top executives, a move Governor Rick Scott says demonstrates accountability. But in a written statement Friday Scott says the agency should re-evaluate all of its policies, and CEO Will Seccombe should step down. But Scott argues the agency plays an integral role in driving the economy.
“So if we want to create an environment where we have the most jobs, the best jobs, where we can make sure we have the money to invest in education, or law enforcement, or the other things we care about, it’s all gonna to be tied to how active we are in session,” Scott said.
Republican lawmaker Jack Latvala of Clearwater is a strong force in the Senate, and the chamber’s appropriations chair. And he’s making a strong defense of the state’s economic development programs.
“I don’t think we can stick our heads in the sand and just quit advertising and quit doing things to bring people to Florida, bring businesses to Florida, bring movies to Florida,” Latvala said.
The Pitbull debacle is only the most recent statehouse conflict. Last session, the Legislature rejected some of Scott’s top budget priorities, including $250 million for Enterprise Florida. This week’s clashes give an indication of what working relationships could be like in the upcoming session. But new Senate President Joe Negron says there are ways to navigate these conflicts.
“If we’ll just follow the simple rules, this has been done for a long, long time. Long before I got here, long before Speaker Corcoran got here, there was a way to resolve conflict at the end, particularly on the budget, and it’s worked very well,” Negron said.
Corcoran says he and President Negron have an understanding on how to balance a budget. But if anything is certain, it’s that Corcoran is already rewriting the rules, and building a chamber that matches his conservative principles.