Business

Gov. Rick Scott’s new jobs chief gets warmer reception from lawmakers than predecessor

Cissy Proctor, new head of Florida Dept. of Economic Opportunity
Cissy Proctor, new head of Florida Dept. of Economic Opportunity Dept. of Economic Opportunity

Gov. Rick Scott appointed a new state jobs chief on Thursday who could boost his chances of getting one of his top priorities through the Florida Legislature in 2016.

Scott promoted Cissy Proctor to lead the Department of Economic Opportunity, replacing Jesse Panuccio who announced his resignation earlier this month at a time his tenure was considered in “extreme danger” with state senators. Panuccio repeatedly clashed with senators over job creation programs and technical glitches with the state’s unemployment compensation system.

“He’s picked somebody we can work with,” said State Sen. Nancy Detert, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee and one of Panuccio’s biggest critics. “This would be an upgrade.”

Before becoming chief of staff at DEO in January, Proctor had been a director of legislative affairs and director of the Division of Strategic Business Development for DEO, roles which put her in regular contact with the Legislature. Prior to that, she was an attorney and lobbyist in Tallahassee for 10 years. Lobbyist registration forms show that over that decade her clients included Lykes Brothers, Tampa Bay Downs and United Healthcare.

Scott emphasized Proctor’s legislative history in touting her appointment.

“She has a strong background in legislative affairs, and I know she will be a great partner with the Florida Legislature to continue to diversify our economy,” Scott said.

Panuccio was often criticized by state senators for not communicating well and displaying “arrogance” as State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, labeled it during a contentious committee hearing earlier this fall. Detert, R-Venice, said earlier this month that Panuccio was in “extreme danger” of not being confirmed by the Senate.

Latvala said in a interview Thursday that Proctor, who officially takes over Jan. 9, has already reached out to him, giving him hope there will be a better relationship with the Legislature.

“I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt,” said Latvala, chairman of a budget committee which has jurisdiction over Scott’s job-incentive programs.

Proctor will be taking over while Scott is pushing the Legislature to give him $250 million that he can use to negotiate incentives to lure businesses to Florida — the signature issue of his five-year tenure. Just six months ago the Legislature rejected Scott’s push for $85 million for the same Enterprise Fund program, giving him only half of what sought.

But this time Scott has changed how he plans to manage the program, seemingly addressing a concern Latvala and others had about the Enterprise Fund. Scott has proposed no longer keeping money in escrow to be paid out in future years as companies hit job-creation goals. Other changes would limit incentive deals to a maximum of 10 years and require legislative leaders to sign off on incentive packages of more than $1 million.

Those reforms, the resignation of Panuccio and choosing Proctor are all positive signs that show the governor is listening to the Legislature’s concerns, said Detert.

Proctor’s appointment has to be confirmed by the Senate.

Contact Jeremy Wallace at jwallace@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.

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