TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott looked to pressure local lawmakers Thursday on their own turf to back the state's business incentive program, Enterprise Florida, by rolling out one of the region's sacred cows: the defense industry.
Meeting with local defense contractors and veteran-owned small businesses at Tampa's VFW, Scott chastised House Republicans for voting to kill off Enterprise Florida. He called out by name local representatives who joined House Speaker Richard Corcoran's crusade against taxpayer-funded economic incentives.
Scott said those actions threaten MacDill Air Force Base at a time when the Pentagon is looking to close and consolidate military bases. The House bill to end Enterprise Florida would also ax the Florida Defense Alliance, an organization that advocates for the state's military bases in the face of potential federal cuts.
If Tampa lost MacDill, it would also say goodbye to jobs that support the base and ones that employ the families of the men and women stationed there, said Scott, a Republican.
"It's important to our country to help our military meet their mission," he said. "But it's also important for creating jobs in the state.
"We have local House members … and others who have voted to get rid of this," he added. "It makes no sense."
With 20 military bases, Florida is anxiously waiting to see if Washington moves forward with another round of Base Realignment and Closure.
But House Republicans have so far shrugged off Scott's attempts to rope concerns over the future of its military installations into the debate in Tallahassee over the efficacy of business incentives.
The Florida Defense Alliance receives almost no state funding and meets in person just twice a year, and House leadership says its functions are duplicative to the Florida Defense Support Task Force, which gives out grants to help bases.
House Republicans will continue to provide $2 million a year for the Florida Defense Support Task Force.
Rep. Jackie Toledo — one of several local lawmakers Scott encouraged defense industry representatives to call — said the Florida Defense Alliance was "redundant" and House efforts to eliminate it do not diminish their support of the state's defense industry.
"I appreciate and share Gov. Scott's love for our military men and women and the bases they call home," Toledo, R-Tampa, said in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times. "My constituents know it is possible to both love our military and stop wasteful spending."
Scott, who has made job creation the cornerstone of his administration, has asked the Legislature to fund Enterprise Florida to the tune of $85 million. In the weeks since Corcoran announced intentions to shut down and defund the agency, Scott has traveled throughout the state touting the incentive program's effectiveness in Florida's post-recession rebound.
In his latest salvo, the governor enlisted the help of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, to encourage local defense contractors, veterans and businesses that hire and support veterans and military spouses to support Enterprise Florida. "This is not a partisan issue," said Buckhorn, who joined Scott at the VFW. "This is an issue about the welfare of our community."
Paul Huszar, CEO and president of VetCor LLC, a restoration company focused on hiring veterans, didn't buy talk of losing MacDill. With two four-star commands and a key role in fighting the global war on terror, its survival chances are high, said Huszar, a veteran himself, during the governor's roundtable discussion. Nevertheless, he said the Florida Defense Alliance is uniquely positioned to connect local businesses that can provide services that further boost the base.
"When government tries to create jobs, we create bureaucracies like (the Department of Veteran Affairs) and I think that's a bad word in this particular room," Huszar said. "When we try to create conditions to create jobs, which is what I believe the Florida Defense Alliance does and Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, we succeed and we help spur the economy."
Contact Steve Contorno at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.