When Florida Gov. Rick Scott makes a “Fighting for Florida Jobs” stop in a town, it’s not so he can study the local traffic patterns.
Rather, it’s intended to send a message to local Republicans: the Florida House is getting in the way of the gubernatorial agenda relative to Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.
Wednesday afternoon found the governor in beautiful Orange Park, and local Rep. Travis Cummings and other House Republicans (especially Rep. Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican widely seen as a Jacksonville adjunct) in his rhetorical crosshairs.
A sheet from the governor’s office pointed out in ALL CAPS that Cummings “voted to eliminate Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida” in committee.
And though Gov. Scott doesn’t talk in all caps, his message was imbued with a real sense of urgency, housed in that gloaming between the policy side and the political side.
As is customary with Gov. Scott, his remarks started off with the origin story — a description of Florida when he came into office, with mortgages underwater, houses stripped of value, and double digit unemployment.
The turnaround, said Scott, “started with tourism.”
Tourism — the raison d’etre of Visit Florida — ensures that a quarter of sales tax is paid by tourists, a share that results in $1,500 savings per household.
Scott also posited that the ROI on Enterprise Florida is five times the investment, “exactly the way government ought to work,” he said.
Florida House Republicans — many at least — balk at that conception, including Rep. Cummings, who “voted to basically cut Enterprise Florida and the marketing of the state by 2/3.”
As he has elsewhere on this tour, the governor asked regarding Cummings: “How could somebody do this … are any of these jobs expendable? Call Travis, ask him ‘why would you do this’.”
“Did they talk like this when they ran? Will they talk about this when they run again? I doubt it,” Gov. Scott said about Cummings, Renner, and other recalcitrant Republicans.
The governor had pressure for Duval Republicans Jay Fant and Jason Fischer also, urging those in attendance to “ask them how they’re going to vote.”
“If we don’t have money for [marketing the state],” Scott said, “we’re out of the game.”
After the event, we asked Gov. Scott the motivation of House opponents.
“I have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. I can’t imagine any politician goes around the state and says they’re not for jobs … it doesn’t make any sense to me that someone would want to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida when you see all the jobs created.”
Scott made the affirmative case for job creation in Clay and Duval, with more than 63,000 jobs, and over a 50 percent reduction in the jobless rate since 2010, via these programs.
A one-sheet distributed to attendees of this business roundtable event posited that Duval had $1 billion in tourism-generated job revenues in 2015 alone, a feather in the cap of Visit Florida, in addition to $1.8 billion in direct spending.
For Clay, the numbers were $34 million in tax revenues, and another $161 million in direct revenue.
In Clay and Duval combined, over 30,000 jobs are attributed to tourism.
State GDP: up 22 percent in six years. And the $3 billion surplus is allowing $1.2 billion to go into ports, including delayed JAXPORT dredging. This money will be combined with money from a friendly White House, including a transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, whom the governor has known for 27 years.
Those are numbers, of course, and critics of the incentive programs have their own cases.
As they make those cases, they should expect a visit from the governor, who sees two of his prized incentive programs on the threshing floor of the House.
With a hearing Monday at 1, we will have a good indication of how these efforts impact Northeast Florida Republicans, who are faced with a Faustian choice between falling out of Corcoran’s favor and risking the veto pen if their projects get through the legislature.