Gov. Rick Scott picked a new fight with his fellow Republicans in the Legislature Thursday by criticizing them for not spending more money for incentive programs to bring jobs to Florida. Speaking to business leaders at an Enterprise Florida board meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach, Scott voiced frustration with lawmakers.
"The Legislature didn't fully fund our tool kit. It's pretty frustrating," Scott said. "We're down to $9 million. … We will not be able to get deals done moving forward."
Legislators insist that Enterprise Florida didn't spen most of the money it got last year and that the public-private partnership is too dependent on taxpayer subsidies to survive. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who chairs a budget subcommittee for all economic development programs, said Enterprise Florida keeps earmarked escrow funds in a bank where it draws one quarter of 1 percent interest. He proposed moving the money to a fund under control of a state agency where it would draw at least 3 percent interest.
"If money for businesses is so important, why does the governor and his people continue to fight me on getting a better return on our investment?" Latvala said. "It's a little sad. But I'm going to continue to fight for the taxpayers."
Scott asked every Enterprise Florida board member to lobby their friends in the Legislature to increase state funding for jobs programs used to lure companies to the state. Scott had asked the Legislature for $85 million for Enterprise Florida for the coming year, and the Legislature appropriated $43 million plus $10 million for a new marketing initiative to brand Florida as a business destination.
Enterprise Florida's 64-member board is filled with movers and shakers. Board member Fred Leonhardt, whose Gray Robinson law firm aggressively lobbies the Legislature, pointedly criticized lawmakers for not backing up their pro-jobs rhetoric with action.
"There's a disconnect," Leonhardt said. "When we say we need $85 million for the closing fund, that's not fluff — that's the real deal. And when you (legislators) say we're going to give you a third or a half of that, you're saying, 'I don't care what I ran on. I don't want you to have jobs.'" Leonhardt criticized legislators for advocating Senate confirmation of Enterprise Florida's CEO.
Florida Power & Light's chief executive, Eric Silagy, said it's the Legislature's fault that "Florida is on the brink of being closed to business thanks to a lack of funding." FP&L employs an army of lobbyists to lobby lawmakers on utility policy.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said "funding, funding, funding" for job programs and Jacksonville Jaguars owned Shahid Khan said "it's a little disconcerting" that legislators won't "loosen the purse strings" more to lure jobs to the state.
"We're knocking it out of the park as far as job growth," Scott said.