Bousquet column: GOP lawmakers losing patience with one of Gov. Rick Scott's favorite agencies

Published Jan. 13, 2015

The honeymoon between second-term Gov. Rick Scott and his fellow Republicans in the Florida Legislature might be over before it started.

Just one day after Scott took the oath of office last week, Senate Republicans grilled a Scott underling about what they see as excessive bureaucratic foot-dragging, and they weren't very polite about it.

Make no mistake: When legislators publicly harass an obscure agency bureaucrat, it has nothing to do with him. What they're doing is delivering a 2-by-4 to the governor, and probably his chief of staff, too.

In this case, the agency on the firing line was one of Scott's personal favorites, the Department of Economic Opportunity, which attracts jobs to the state and soon will ask lawmakers for a boatload of tax money to offer incentives to companies seeking to locate in Florida. But the DEO is failing to do its job in the eyes of influential senators.

The forum was the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development, which oversees $12 billion in spending, about 16 percent of the budget.

The panel's new chairman, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is a Scott supporter, but he's a bulldog who shows no patience with bureaucratic double-talk.

In the current budget, which took effect July 1, the DEO is the agency required to execute 42 contracts for various local initiatives, from a regional service center in east Hillsborough to Tampa's Jewish Community Center to a Nature Coast plaza in Hernando County.

Here it is mid January and 23 of the projects have been fully executed, or about half the total. By comparison, the Department of State has completed 21 of 30 projects, or 70 percent.

The DEO's chief financial officer, Dean Izzo, told senators that approvals have been delayed by land appraisals or local government agreements that take time, along with new legal red tape required by lawmakers.

"Anything new that we accomplish, or attempt to accomplish, with all of these new provisions causes some of the explanations for delay," Izzo told senators.

Latvala wondered why the Florida Sports Foundation, which promotes amateur sports and sports tourism, has not received a grant that the Legislature put in the current budget, signed into law by Scott last May.

"There is nothing but bureaucracy involved with that," Latvala told Izzo. "Just a simple transfer."

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, captured the folly of it all.

"We went home, declared victory, received awards — and nobody got a check," Detert said. "It's the worst of all bureaucracy. Everything is all gummed up."

Detert added that the Legislature itself is partly to blame for passage of a 2014 law intended to improve transparency in state contracting.

But the buck stops with Scott. He's in charge of a vast state bureaucracy responsible for housing inmates, protecting children and the elderly from abuse and neglect, issuing unemployment checks and drivers' licenses, paving highways and paying school teachers.

It was Scott who told us he would run government more like a business.

Contact Steve Bousquet at or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.