TALLAHASSEE — For the second year in a row, Florida's top official in charge of bringing businesses to the state is getting a $70,000 bonus.
The board of Enterprise Florida — which includes Gov. Rick Scott — voted Thursday to grant the bonus to president and CEO Gray Swoope. The board also signed off on more than $630,000 in bonuses for other agency employees.
The vote to give Swoope the hefty bonus came after Scott and others praised him for the work he has done attracting new businesses to Florida.
In a speech that echoes his likely re-election strategy, Scott ticked off recent corporate expansion and relocation announcements such as the move of Hertz to southwest Florida. He contended that these were signs that the state's economic development efforts had rebounded since 2011.
"We're clearly on the map," Scott said. "… The momentum has clearly changed."
Swoope receives a base pay of $230,000 annually that comes from state taxpayers. Private contributors, however, are paying for Swoope's $70,000 bonus as well as those going to other employees.
A coalition of groups a day earlier sent a letter to Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet asking that they delay voting on the bonuses.
One of the complaints is that Enterprise Florida employees are being rewarded based on projected jobs, not the number that are actually created initially. The groups also questioned the bonuses since three-quarters of the funding for the organization comes from taxpayers.
"The public should be concerned about a taxpayer-funded entity handing out huge bonuses without accountability for results," said Dan Krassner, executive director of the group Integrity Florida.
Enterprise Florida officials contend the bonuses are based on "stellar performance" and that employees do not get "merit pay" beyond the bonuses. A spokesman for the organization this week defended using projected jobs as criteria for bonuses since the projects will take years to fully ramp up.
Enterprise Florida on Thursday said that in the past year the organization had won commitments for the creation of more than 20,000 jobs.
Scott and other officials did not debate the bonus before approving it.
But Alan Becker, a South Florida lawyer in charge of the Enterprise Florida finance committee, pointed out that Swoope was getting paid less than some local economic development officials.
He also defended the bonus pool for other Enterprise Florida employees by pointing out that it could potentially go to more than 80 employees. Becker also noted that Enterprise Florida employees — while receiving state money for their base salaries — are not eligible for state government benefits such as the pension.
"They are highly sought after and we have to keep good people," Becker said. "And that's what we are doing."