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Special Session Forces Lawmakers To Reconsider Incentive Funding

Jenn Greiving via Wikimedia Commons

After a bare knuckle legislative fight, lawmakers are revisiting their decision to slash funding for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.  The governor sees the agencies as vital to growing the state economy.

This week’s special session returns to an argument House lawmakers might’ve though they put to bed.  Florida Governor Rick Scott wanted a nearly a hundred million dollars each for economic development and tourism promotion.  Leaders in the House called it corporate welfare.     

“We’re told often how we won’t get this company, or we won’t have that sports team, or so-and-so will do this or so-and-so will do that,” Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Miami) said shortly after the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure slashing Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. 

“It’s the tail wagging the dog,” he went on.  “It’s the smartest guys in the room have figured that if you can get at the trough there’s a lot of money there.  And you can justify it by putting up a banner and that banner is jobs.”

Oliva touted the House’s veto-proof majority as a rebuke of using incentive funding to grow jobs.

“Jobs are created by Floridians,” Oliva said.  “15 million of them are represented today in that vote—87 votes.  They don’t want this type of activity to happen.”

But Governor Scott’s veto pen proved strong enough to bring lawmakers back to the Capitol.  Rep. Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) is again sponsoring the bill—but this time instead of cutting the agencies he’s adding to them. 

Still, he says the spirit of the House position hasn’t changed.

“When tax payers give up their own priorities to pay taxes they expect something in return that is broad based that benefits all Floridians,” Renner says.

Under his bill, Visit Florida will get 76 million dollars and there will be a new 85 million dollar fund for infrastructure and job training.  Those dollar figures mirror Governor Scott’s original asks for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.  At the same time, Renner maintains the strict transparency requirements from his earlier House measure for both agencies.  When it comes to economic development, Renner’s bill says projects can’t be company specific.

“Essentially what it says is that any money spent by the tax payers must go towards things like infrastructure or things like workforce development, that every Floridian can benefit from and access,” Renner says, “rather than the way we have been doing economic development, which is paying particular companies money and providing a tax subsidy to private companies for creating a certain level of jobs.”

Renner sees the fund as way for the governor to break up the logjam when important projects stall.

“The governor can step in and make that happen with these funds,” he says, “and so they are not primary funds.  I would characterize them as supplemental funds.”  “What we are doing already in the area of infrastructure and education far surpasses that amount of money.”

But from a different perspective that looks like a slush fund, and according to the Miami Herald, some lawmakers are already raising concerns about lack of oversight.  Starting Wednesday, lawmakers have three days to hash it out.