Gov. Scott demands Legislature spend $250M for job incentives
Gov. Rick Scott called on Florida legislators Thursday to set aside $250 million in the next state budget for economic incentive programs, an idea likely to face strong resistance from his fellow Republicans in the Senate, even though 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 actually been paid to employers. Most of the rest is earmarked for several hundred jobs deals, but the jobs don't yet exist.
In Tuesday's speech, Scott tripled the request to set aside $250 million in a new Florida Enterprise Fund, and any deal over $1 million would require approval of the Senate president and House speaker as well as the governor. Scott has already made other big promises, including an estimated $700 million in tax cuts and "record" per pupil spending in public schools. Scott's abrupt vetoes of $461 million in legislators' projects in June left a trail of bitterness with a number of GOP senators.
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.
"People come to my office all the time and say, 'Oh, I met with so-and-so in the House or so-and-so in the Senate, and they completely agree with me.' I say, 'Really? I haven't seen their press release.' If they don't put out a press release and say I absolutely will support these reforms, then that's a 'No.'"
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. Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said EFI's bookkeeping is "almost hilarious."