TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott has combed Florida for mayors to help him persuade skeptical legislators to approve more Enterprise Florida incentives for business recruitment, and on Monday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn volunteered.
"We could not have done what we've been able to do over the last four years, in terms of attracting corporations, without Enterprise Florida and these incentive dollars," Buckhorn said, citing the recruitment of companies like Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Ashley Furniture.
Buckhorn is the most prominent mayor yet to support Scott's request for a Florida Enterprise Fund of $250 million — about six times what the Legislature approved this year. A Democrat who leads the state's third-largest city, he has ignored party lines in consistently welcoming Scott's job recruitment efforts.
"Whether we like it or not, it is part of the process," Buckhorn said of the incentives. "Competing with states that are far more aggressive about their dollars, we've got to be in that game."
Scott proposed the fund in October, saying Florida's existing job recruitment efforts were underfunded, while states such as New York and Texas had budgeted $150 million and $90 million, respectively, for corporate relocation incentives.
Scott asked the Legislature for $85 million for incentive programs for this year, but the Legislature cut that in half during its session this spring.
In the Senate, where the state's corporate relocation efforts have come in for pointed questions, analysts say only about 10 percent of money appropriated for incentive programs has been paid to employers. Most is earmarked for deals for jobs that haven't been created yet.
To compete with Texas, which Scott said was Florida's No. 1 rival for new jobs, the governor proposes to phase out the state's existing Quick Action Closing Fund and replace it with a new Florida Enterprise Fund. For a relocation project to qualify for state aid, it would have to generate a return of 10 percent per year for 10 years, delivering to the state a 100 percent return on its investment.
Before Buckhorn, Scott had picked up the support of Fort Myers Mayor Randall P. Henderson Jr., Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa and, according to Politico Florida, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez (who Politico reported was mistakenly identified as Miami's mayor in an initial release from the governor's office).
Along with Buckhorn, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said Monday he was glad Scott thinks it's important to have money for corporate incentives and is pushing for it.
"I'll leave it to the governor for politics, but I will say that for this state to be competitive with other states, we do need incentive money to attract companies," Vinik said outside the Centre Club, where he spoke to about 200 business people about his plans to develop 40 acres around Amalie Arena and his efforts to attract big companies to his project. "It's an important ingredient in the calculation when companies decide where to move."
Still, Buckhorn's the one thinking about running for governor in 2018. Does he expect pushback from other Democrats?
"I'm sure there will be some," he said. "But I'm a mayor and I have to do — and will do — what's good for my city."
That, he said, includes pursuing new companies with the help of state business incentives and supporting proposals that he thinks will make Tampa more competitive for jobs.
"We can't sell the state just on sunshine," Buckhorn said. "I'm never going to please the hard-core partisans on either side of the aisle. That's not what mayors worry about. We worry about growing our city."
Contact Richard Danielson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.