TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott suffered another political setback with the Legislature.
Over the last two weeks he has toured the state, recorded campaign-style automated phone calls and penned a sharply worded letter in newspapers statewide to pressure fellow Republicans in the Florida House to back off of a bill that would eliminate the state agency that has been at the center of his job creation efforts.
It didn't work.
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee responded with a rejection of the Republican governor's agenda. It voted 18-12 to kill Enterprise Florida and decimate Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency that Scott credits with helping the state set tourism records for six straight years. Seventeen of the 20 Republicans on the committee voted for the bill.
"It all comes down to: Is this the purpose of government?" said House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.
Trujillo said with all of the other state needs, the government should not be taking money from taxpayers and giving it to companies to create jobs.
His comments hit at the crux of a raging philosophical debate that has consumed state government over the past four weeks. On one side, chamber of commerce Republicans like Scott see tax incentives for companies and government marketing as critical to growing the economy. On the other side, tea party-infused groups see both programs as corporate welfare that benefits only a few companies.
Rather than incentives that go to a few, Rep. Paul Renner, R-Jacksonville, said the state should cut taxes and regulations for everyone.
"These programs are not the right way to do economic development," said Renner, who has been the lead advocate of legislation that has the blessing of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. Corcoran has been a vocal critic of both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.
The vote Tuesday came after more than three hours of testimony that included tourism industry types and supporters of Enterprise Florida.
Scott has warned that the House is threatening the state's economic momentum that he says began after he was elected in 2010.
"Today's vote by politicians in the Florida House is a job killer," Scott said.
For Scott, the latest defeat is a reminder that House Republicans are not afraid of taking him on over any issue as he enters his final two years in office.
"He's a paper tiger with no teeth in this fight," said Anthony Pedicini, a Tampa Bay Republican political consultant who has dozens of House candidates as clients. "He has no leverage to threaten House members."
The fast-tracked bill suddenly has cleared all of its assigned committees and is set to be one of the first bills to be heard by the full House of Representatives when the Legislature starts its annual session on March 7.
But the bill still has major hurdles to overcome. First, the Florida Senate has refused to consider a similar bill. Without both chambers passing the same bill, it cannot become a law. Even if the same bill did pass both, it would still go to Scott, who has made it clear he opposes the idea of killing the two agencies he most touts for the state's improved economy.
The House did retreat on one front. Initially, Renner's bill called for the complete elimination of Visit Florida. But the House late Monday proposed cutting the agency from its $78 million state budget to $25 million. That's a terrible attempt at compromise for Visit Florida advocates. Ken Lawson, the agency's new CEO, said cutting the agency's funding that much would mean more than $160 million in lost revenues from tourism — a number Renner disputes.
Contact Jeremy Wallace at [email protected] Follow @ JeremySWallace