Florida Budget Talks Stumble Over Business Incentives
Gov. Rick Scott's call for more money to attract businesses to Florida put an unexpected halt Monday to budget talks on transportation, tourism and economic-development issues.
Senators claimed a "lack of respect" as they sought what they considered an adequate explanation about why the House wanted to boost funding for Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic development agency.
The House, as the second week of a special legislative session got underway, unveiled a $39 million offer to fund the incentives programs at Enterprise Florida, while pitching another $4 million for the agency's new marketing brand.
The numbers Monday were up from the House's initial offer of $25 million for incentives, with no money for branding.
The Senate had come in at $30 million over the weekend for incentives and $5 million for the marketing brand.
Scott, whose office has been in contact with House members, requested $85 million for the business incentives and $5 million for branding, and Enterprise Florida has upped its own efforts to secure a larger funding amount than proposed by lawmakers.
Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Monday he felt "sideswiped" by the House's new proposal, noting the two sides had been close to a settlement on the portion of the budget that is focused on economic development and transportation.
"If the approach that we mutually took and the levels of funding that we mutually had were good enough for the regular session, and good enough for us to virtually have matching offers up until this morning, what changed in the dark of the night where it's not a good idea anymore?" Latvala said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, added that the House proposal needed "more vetting," which led to the Senate halting a negotiating session.
House members instead wanted to review the entire 21 pages of transportation, tourism and economic-development proposals.
House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, said adjourning the meeting wouldn't be "a productive process."
After the meeting, Latvala charged that the new funding proposal could be a thanks to Scott for siding with the House in a battle about a Senate plan to use federal Medicaid expansion money to help lower-income Floridians purchase private health insurance. The House decisively rejected the Senate plan Friday.
"Let's see, oh yeah, the governor just bailed in with the House on the health-care fight," Latvala said. "Maybe this is his reward."
Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, went further, saying "I do," when asked if the House was doing Scott's bidding.
Speaking to reporters Monday, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, acknowledged his chamber has heard from the governor's office. But Crisafulli otherwise dismissed Latvala's contention.
"The House has always been interested in economic incentives, and this is part of that process," Crisafulli said.
Crisafulli, who said the House freed up the money through reducing about $7 million from individual House projects, also sent out a statement supporting House Transportation & Economic Development Appropriations Chairman Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola. Ingram and Latvala are the lead negotiators on the issues.
"I am very proud of the way Chair Ingram conducted himself in the difficult meeting today," Crisafulli said. "He has proven himself to be a true statesman. We look forward to continuing to work hard with our Senate partners to pass a balanced budget."
Scott's office deferred comment to statements made earlier in the day by Bill Johnson, Florida's secretary of commerce and chief executive officer of Enterprise Florida.
Johnson urged members of Enterprise Florida's board of directors executive committee to keep up the pressure on lawmakers, as the agency has been pushing the Legislature to reach Scott's $85 million proposal.
"There is no need for EFI to exist if we cannot garner the support of our Florida Legislature to adequately fund the tool kit," Johnson said during a conference call. "$85 Million is not the wrong number. It's the right number. And we've got to get to the number or very, very close to that."
Latvala contends the agency should draw more private money and said the branding dollars should come from $86 million that Enterprise Florida already has in an escrow account. Latvala also questioned why there is the urge to boost funding when the agency has only spent $9 million for incentives this year.
"I think it's irresponsible to fund them at a level that they can't even spend the money on," Latvala said.
Johnson, who characterized the Senate's $30 million proposal as "shameful" during the board-member call, said his agency has businesses lined up that could require incentive funding for those deals to be completed.
Lawmakers are meeting in special session because they failed to agree on a budget during this spring's regular session. The special session could last through June 20.
During a brief House floor session Monday, Crisafulli said issues that can't be settled in conference committees by noon Tuesday will be "bumped" to the budget chairs in each chamber, Lee and House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes.
House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said there appears to be a "tremendous amount of pushback from the Senate" due to the health-care fight. He said that could impact large portions of the budget.
"Everything that is occurring right now is going to get caught up in the meat grinder," Pafford said.