Gov. Rick Scott demands Legislature spend $250M for job incentives

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott AP

Gov. Rick Scott called on Florida legislators Thursday to set aside $250 million in the next state budget for economic incentive programs, an idea that could face resistance from some of his fellow Republicans in the Senate, although Scott’s plan includes more oversight of spending by legislative leaders.

Speaking at an Enterprise Florida board meeting in Orlando, Scott directly took on his critics in the Capitol, saying “it’s ridiculous” that the largest fund used to close deals with employers is “broken and nearly bankrupt” and will run out of money in a few weeks. He again called on Enterprise Florida board members, many of them well-connected business leaders, to lobby lawmakers for the money and to “make it personal.”

“These reforms are not going to happen because I give a speech. They’re not,” Scott said in a morning speech at the Hyatt at Orlando International Airport.

He picked an opportune time to pounce on the Legislature, as lawmakers are wallowing in dysfunction over the need to remap all 40 Senate districts to comply with constitutional anti-gerrymandering requirements.

Scott’s request for $85 million for incentive programs in the current budget was sliced by half in the 2015 legislative session, and Senate analysts say that since Scott became governor, only about 10 percent of money appropriated for incentive programs has been paid to employers. Most of the rest is earmarked for several hundred jobs deals, but the jobs don’t yet exist.

These reforms are not going to happen because I give a speech. They’re not.

Gov. Rick Scott

In Tuesday’s speech, Scott tripled the request to set aside $250 million in a new Florida Enterprise Fund, and said any deal over $1 million would require approval of the Senate president and House speaker as well as the governor.

“It’s a big dollar ask,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, one of Enterprise Florida’s strongest critics in the Legislature. “That could be problematic.”

Detert supports the substance of the governor’s plan, even if $250 million is a high sticker price. She said oversight from the Legislature is good, and she applauded the plan to move economic incentive money into an account where it can earn interest.

Other Senate Republicans are less up-front about how their opinions. President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, “told the governor that he was looking forward to reviewing the governor’s proposal in more detail in the coming weeks,” a spokeswoman said. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, declined to commentThursday. He is chairman of the budget committee that oversees Enterprise Florida’s money and, like Detert, has leveled harsh criticism at Johnson and Enterprise Florida in recent months.

On Tuesday, Scott’s hand-picked leader of Enterprise Florida, Bill Johnson, faced hostile questioning in a Senate budget committee, which noted that his organization has $141 million in escrow accounts, promised to future jobs that don’t exist. Detert called EFI’s bookkeeping “almost hilarious.”

Treading on treacherous political ground, Scott said legislators can’t be trusted until they make a commitment in writing in the form of a press release.

Still, Detert said Thursday that lawmakers may be on board with Scott’s plan. After all, she said, it addresses many of the concerns she and others have raised.

“It’s very unusual,” she said. “Usually they just ignore our months of criticism.”

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet. Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.