Senate questions legality of Enterprise Florida's bookkeeping
The clash of wills intensified Monday between Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Senate over the handling of hundreds of millions of tax dollars used as bait to attract jobs to Florida.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, sent a memo to senators that questioned the legal basis of Enterprise Florida's pattern of keeping much of its job incentive money in escrow accounts, where it collects virtually no interest. The escrowed money is withdrawn over a decade or more as employers meet job creation benchmarks.
"The current practice of escrowing funds is not specifically authorized by the Legislature in law and has complicated the appropriations process," Gardiner told senators. (That's Senate-speak for saying, in effect, this is wrong and it has to stop).
Scott, the chairman of Enterprise Florida's board, and EFI's chief executive, Bill Johnson, have repeatedly said the public-private partnership will run out of money this fiscal year, which Scott has called "very frustrating." But Gardiner reiterated the Senate's view that EFI is hoarding money: $118 million in escrow as of last week. Over the past four years, Gardiner said, the state never spent $220 million in appropriated job incentive money, enough to pay for at least four 10-day back-to-school sales tax holidays.
"Continuing to use this approach is clearly far from the highest and best use of limited taxpayer resources," Gardiner wrote.
More troubling news for the governor: The Senate wants to switch from escrowed funds to a "cash flow" system in which the Legislature would only fund existing job deals on a year-to-year basis, a model Scott has publicly criticized. But Gardiner said a pay-as-you-go approach works well in other programs, most notably the Department of Transportation's five-year work plan.