Gov. Scott's Texas-sized job incentive fund gets cautious support
Gov. Rick Scott's ambitious plan to expand Florida's incentive program to attract new jobs unabashedly copies Texas, the state Scott uses as a benchmark for his economic development efforts. Scott called for a Texas-sized $250 million "enterprise fund" in a speech two weeks ago, and on Tuesday his team got a polite but noncommittal hearing in a Senate budget subcommittee.
"Texas is our No. 1 competitor," Enterprise Florida executive vice president Crystal Sircy testified. "I'm tired of losing to Texas."
Sircy's slide show used the term "like Texas" 10 times, and she noted that New York, Georgia and South Carolina all spend more money on incentives than Florida does ($43 million this year). She said one reason Mercedes-Benz chose to locate in Georgia was because that state offered $23 million incentives compared to Florida's $10 million.
The $250 million would be a one-time appropriation for three years, and Enterprise Florida would no longer keep money in escrow to be paid out in future years as companies hit job-creation goals -- a practice that senators have criticized. Other changes, pushed by lawmakers in the 2015 session, would dedicate all money so it doesn't revert to the treasury, end waivers or exceptions to project terms, limit incentive deals to a maximum of 10 years and require legislative leaders to sign off on incentive packages more than $1 million.
"We took to heart all the issues and concerns that have been raised," Sircy told senators, describing the plan as a "delicate balance" between flexibility and accountability.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told Sircy that $250 million is three times as much money as the total allocation his committee got for all projects in the current budget to be paid for with one-time, or non-recurring money. Another senator, Republican Nancy Detert of Venice, said she's more concerned about why Florida keeps losing out to Georgia, a state with a personal income tax.
"I really don't want to hear about Texas," Detert said. "I hate Texas."
Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers, criticized Scott's proposal as "unnecessary incentive spending and corporate welfare." AFP praised Detert for her comments at Tuesday's hearing that Florida should not compete for jobs with states that are "giving away the store."