Scott signs law bad for Florida business

Published May 1, 2012

Gov. Rick Scott might be the jobs governor, all right — for other gulf states. They are poised to benefit from wrongheaded legislation Scott signed into law Tuesday that penalizes firms for doing business in Cuba. That may make the governor more popular among the vocal but dwindling number of hard-line Cuban-Americans in Miami. But the law puts Florida's publicly owned ports and airports at a disadvantage, and it creates a new barrier as the state looks to capitalize on foreign trade. That's some strategy for the global economy.

The law prohibits companies that do business in Cuba from securing contracts with state or local governments worth more than $1 million. Any contracts existing before the law takes effect July 1 also could be terminated. While legislators perfumed the bill by outlawing contracts with firms in Syria, too, this is a political nod to hard-line exiles in an election year. The legislation sailed through the Legislature, but Scott has a singular responsibility to put the state's broader interests first.

In a bill signing Tuesday in Miami, Scott acknowledged the law could cost the state jobs but said standing up for freedom is important because "principles matter." But this law does nothing to end the Castro communist regime. To the contrary, it targets legitimate businesses at home and abroad that operate on an island where federal law already allows at least limited economic activity. Scott even acknowledged in a signing statement that the state law is likely an overreach of state authority. He said the restrictions "will not go into effect" unless the federal government expressly gives the state the permission to impose the sanctions. "We must have a federal partner," he said, "that will permit this law to become operative."

Making foreign policy from Tallahassee and signing a law that is constitutionally suspect and impossible to enforce hardly inspires confidence within the business community. Business leaders across the state, along with Florida's top two trading partners, Brazil and Canada, had warned the law could discourage investment from foreign firms. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce called on Scott to veto the bill. The law could hurt Tampa International Airport's plan to use incentives to attract new inter-American flights, and Florida's ports could lose business to other Gulf Coast states when the expanded Panama Canal opens up new maritime opportunities.

None of this stopped the show Tuesday in Miami. The probusiness governor signed into law a political statement that is bad for business, and it is another example of his failure to understand the diversity of his adopted state.