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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Bribing companies not the way to bring jobs to Florida

Florida Gov. Rick Scott with Bill Johnson
in 2010. Johnson heads Enterprise Florida.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott with Bill Johnson in 2010. Johnson heads Enterprise Florida.
Published Oct. 23, 2015

Only in the Jabberwocky world of Tallahassee would a bureaucratic supernumerary for Gov. Rick Scott, R-C-3PO, be sitting on $142 million in the bank and still claim to be poorer than the Joad family.

But there was Bill Johnson, who heads up Enterprise Florida, practically doing his best subway panhandler impersonation before a Senate committee, insisting he simply needs an additional $80 million to help finagle more jobs to the state. And great hilarity ensued.

On Scott's watch, Tallahassee has appropriated $398 million to fund various incentive programs to attract jobs to Florida. But so far, only $38 million actually has been awarded to companies for creating new jobs across the state. And now Enterprise Florida, which is made up of the state's biggest big-shot captains of industry, apparently can't give away $142 million but wants nearly $100 million more in state money to underwrite jobs in the off chance those jobs are created.

So much for that tired old blah-blah about running government like a business. What private sector concern would spend millions on a product nobody wants to buy? Better yet, how many private sector companies would leave $142 million in an escrow account that barely pays any interest, as those brilliant financial geniuses at Enterprise Florida have done?

Johnson bemoaned his sad lot in life, complaining that other states had dragooned jobs away from Florida by offering more money to companies to either create jobs or relocate employees. "Cash is king," Johnson sniffed. "I can only deal with the amount of money I'm told I have available. Obviously I wish it was a different number."

And great spit-takes ensued.

Does offering bribes to companies to create jobs in Florida make some sense? Sure, although you have to wonder if part of the problem is whenever a CEO sees Scott, the Uncle Fester of Tallahassee, walking through the door that is hardly an appealing incentive to take up residence in Florida.

At the same time, Johnson is woefully ill-informed if he truly believes simply throwing millions of dollars at corporations to relocate to Florida is the primary reason to come here. There is no question Florida's climate and the absence of a state income tax might be a draw. And then there is all the other stuff.

For the sake of argument, imagine a CEO running down a checklist while considering establishing a presence of Florida, perhaps even relocating a thousand employees to the state.

What kind of public transportation is available? Uh-oh. Not so good, and it was Scott who rejected federal high speed rail funding.

What about schools? Well, Florida public schools rank 28th nationally and let us not forget Tallahassee's stumblebum, bizarre, garbled approach to testing that practically turns underpaid teachers into villains.

Public health? Well, consider the state set aside nearly $400 million to lure jobs that have yet to exist, while also refusing to accept federal Medicaid funding to help a half-million poor Floridians who do exist.

Public safety? Oh boy! Florida is awash in guns. The state has issued at least 1.3 million concealed carry permits. The Florida Legislature is little more than a dancing organ grinder monkey doing the bidding of the National Rifle Association, and it looks entirely possible that pretty soon our universities will start to look like Deadwood once Tallahassee approves concealed weapons on campus and the open carry of weapons everywhere.

Tolerance? Let's say 10 percent of the jobs the CEO is planning to relocate represent nonwhites. The CEO decides to take a tour of the state and as the executive drives into Tampa from Orlando what is the first thing he or she sees? A giant, honking, massive Confederate flag fluttering at the junction of I-4 and I-75, advertising for all the world to see that one is now entering redneck, yahoo, racist Gooberville.

Miscellaneous? There are Floridians who keep cobras for pets. George Zimmerman calls Florida home. The Church of Scientology has its spiritual headquarters in Clearwater. Florida leads the nation in identity theft. Florida leads the nation in weird, from hanging chad to Duke Energy charging customers for a nuclear reactor that will never be built, to the election of a governor who ran a company that later paid a record fine for Medicare fraud. Three final words: stand your ground.

Yet Bill Johnson can't figure why it's so hard to persuade corporations to create jobs in Florida? And now Scott wants to sweeten the Enterprise Florida slush fund by adding $250 million to the pot, on top of the $142 million the state has been unable to spend because the promised jobs aren't here?

We're not known as Flori-Duh for nothing.