Scott Keeps Pressure On Lawmakers For Business Incentives

Governor Rick Scott sits in Jacksonville's Metro Diner during a visit to the city, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.
Credit The Office of Governor Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott continues telling business leaders to pressure lawmakers for more incentive money to help attract companies to Florida, despite pushback from the state Senate.

Scott on Tuesday reiterated his position that Enterprise Florida, the state's business-recruiting arm, is running short of cash for incentives. He said at the Gulf Power Economic Symposium in Destin that more money must be set aside in next year's budget if the state wants to continue enticing companies to relocate to the state.

"If Enterprise Florida is important to you, call. And don't call tomorrow, call today," Scott said. "Call your House member. Call your senator today and let them know that it's important.'

Scott pointed to an expansion announced a year ago by Navy Federal Credit Union to add 5,000 jobs in Pensacola.

"These deals will not happen but for the investment from the state," Scott said. "The counties and the cities can't pool enough money. The lion's share has to come from the state."

The state, through its Quick Action Closing Fund, has offered Navy Federal Credit Union up to $20 million if the jobs are created by the middle of 2027 and the business makes capital investments worth $350 million.

The governor, who said he will outline his approach to the 2016 legislative session — including a call for more tax cuts — during an Associated Press media event Wednesday in Tallahassee, has been campaigning for the incentive-funding increase for nearly two months. However, the approach hasn't been appreciated by at least some senators.

Senate Commerce and Tourism Chairwoman Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, advised Bill Johnson, Scott's top business recruiter, that there isn't a need to "gin up your supporters" when he appeared before her committee last month.

Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is a key player on economic-incentives money, added during that meeting that "the rhetoric needs to be lowered."

Johnson, who apologized to Detert, said Tuesday he understands the Senate's position and has been meeting with some lawmakers.

Johnson and Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jesse Panuccio are scheduled to make a presentation about incentives next Tuesday to the Senate Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, which Latvala chairs.

The Senate and Scott have been engaged in a growing spat over funding for Enterprise Florida. Earlier this year, Scott asked lawmakers to set aside $85 million for business incentives. The final budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 included $53 million for Enterprise Florida, of which $43 million was for incentives and $10 million was for marketing.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has called for the current business-incentives program to be revamped, contending that lawmakers have adequately funded Enterprise Florida.

Instead of placing money into a low-yield commercial escrow account to await businesses reaching job-creation or performance benchmarks, Gardiner would prefer the state annually cap the amount of money that would be available for contractually obligated business incentives and in the future for performance payments, similar to the state Department of Transportation's 5-year work program.

Scott and Johnson have repeatedly asserted that Enterprise Florida has just $9 million remaining for recruitment efforts in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2016.

Johnson has said that the agency is working with 22 or 23 "hot" companies, which if they all agreed to move or expand to Florida would require about $53 million to close.

Scott repeated that number Tuesday and defended his request for outside pressure after addressing the business symposium.

"We're getting a great return. Enterprise Florida is doing a great job," Scott told reporters. "I meet with lawmakers a lot, and I love working with the Legislature. This is very important to me to get jobs."