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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate remains reluctant as governor and tribe press hard on compact



In the face of the new revenue numbers, Gov. Rick Scott's office on Wednesday put on a full-court press in an attempt to persuade a reluctant Legislature to accept his $3 billion agreement with the Seminole Tribe.

Jeff Woodburn, the governor's gaming policy director,  urged the Senate Regulated Industries Committee to adopt the seven-year deal to guarantee the money, and suggested that the governor was willing to wait out an agreement with lawmakers, who must ratify the deal. 

"He is going to take the time he needs to get the best deal for the state of Florida and this is the best deal for Florida,'' Woodburn said during a workshop on the proposal.

Reached later by reporters, Gov. Rick Scott said that he did his part to agree to a deal but it was now up to the Legislature to ratify it. 

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, told reporters after the meeting that the projected decline in revenue "certainly got the governor's attention" and his statements show he is ready to rely on the compact to finance his tax cuts. 

"His involvement in this process is necessary if this is going to become a reality' Bradley said. "As revenue projections go down, it certainly does ratchet up pressure as to whether we need these dollars in order to provide basic services to the people of the state of Florida."

Scott, however, has not made it clear whether he would accept a compact that is less than $3 billion in new revenue for the state. Jim Allen, CEO of gaming operations for the Seminole Tribe, said that the governor is clearly committed to a $3 billion guarantee over seven years, an amount unprecedented in any tribal compact "in the history of the world."

In order to guarantee those kinds of revenues, the tribe must be assured that the games it operates are exclusive in Florida, Allen said, so the tribe demanded that it remain the only gaming facility who operates slot machines outside of South Florida and the only casino in the state allowed to operate craps and roulette. 

That means there is little room to negotiate expanded gaming in other parts of the state, such as at horse and dog tracks in Gadsden or Lee counties -- changes legislators are now demanding to win their support of the compact bill. 

"One of the three branches [of government] is extremely dug in -- it's $3 billion or it's nothing,'' Allen said, referring to the governor's office. "It becomes very challenging here for the tribe hen there is no movement from one of the three branches." 

The governor's determination to push for the compact prompted Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, to ask Woodburn if the governor was counting on the revenues from the tribe to finance his call for $1 billion of tax cuts.

"What could happen, if we pass this compact, we could generate this revenue and this revenue could then immediately go out in tax cuts for C-corporations -- under the current proposal. Is that not correct?" Latvala said..

Woodburn would not answer directly but acknowledged the new money "it would provide the flexibility to have additional revenue however that would be allocated."

Bradley noted that because of the mounting priorities lawmakers are facing for spending --, from tax cuts to "economic development dollars, and all the important things we need to do to make sure the Department of Corrections is appropriately funded" -- the compact is likely to be "a very important part of the discussion."

Woodburn told Bradley's committee that the agreement, if approved, would guarantee the state as much as $3 billion over seven years beginning in 2017..

[Last modified: Thursday, January 21, 2016 7:23am]


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