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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Reforms to Gov. Scott's job incentive fund passes House, but dollar amount still unclear



The Florida House passed legislation this morning to change how Gov. Rick Scott's job incentive program is structured, but it is still unclear how much the Legislature will give the Republican governor for what has been one of his top priorities.

"This commits no money to economic incentives," State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, told House members just before the bill passed.

Scott has run television commercials and used almost every public speech since October to push state legislators to give him $250 million for his job creation fund to hand out incentives to businesses to get them to move their corporate headquarters to Florida, or invest more in the state.

The Senate has dedicated $250 million to the Enterprise Fund, but the House has refused to commit to a number until it passed a reform package that would require Scott to get the Legislature's approval on more of the deals he negotiates. Both Republicans and Democrats have questioned whether Scott's incentives have been successful enough and whether there has been enough oversight of the money that have been handed out to businesses.

Last year, legislators gave Scott only about half of the $85 million he requested for the incentive program.

A key reform under the bill that cleared the House would require projects over $2 million to be submitted to the Senate President and House Speaker before they could be awarded. 

Still, that was not enough to bring comfort to some Republicans who voted against the bill amid criticism from tea party groups that the program is a form of "corporate welfare." House Appropriations chairman Richard Corcoran, R-LandO'Lakes, and  Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Hernando County Republican who is also chairman of the state Republican Party, were among those who joined with House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

Even Republicans who voted for the bill, like Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, publicly questioned whether giving the money out to private businesses was the proper role of government. Still, Wood said during the debate that he would vote for the bill because Florida needs to compete with other states to bring jobs.

Democrats were also divided. While some Democrats backed the program with the hopes it will bring jobs to their communities, others, like state Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, said "corporate welfare is not the key to success" for Florida economy.

The bill passed the House 79-39 and now goes to the Florida Senate for review.

Shortly after the vote, Scott issued a statement praising the House for moving forward with the reforms, even though the amount of money for the fund is still unclear.

"I want to thank members of the Florida House for passing this historic legislation to create the new Florida Enterprise Fund," Scott said in a statement.

Scott said Enterprise Fund is an important piece to help him recruit new industries to Florida to better diversify the economy.

[Last modified: Wednesday, February 24, 2016 6:59pm]


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