The House passed the economic incentives package Friday over complaints it would hand Gov. Rick Scott a “slush fund” and make a mockery of the leadership’s professed opposition to picking winners and losers in the economy.
The vote was 111-4. The “no” votes were John Cortes, Evan Jenne, McGhee, and Emily Slosberg — all Democrats.
The bill represents “a fundamental change in direction” for the state’s economic development programs — away from subsidizing individual companies, said Paul Renner, carrying the measure.
“The old way of doing economic development asked from the many to give to the few — asked from all the taxpayers to give to a handful of privileged companies that can navigate the system here in Tallahassee to receive these incentives,” he said.
“We are taking a departure from that, because it violated that basic fundamental principle, that compact between the government and the taxpayers.”
Democrats, however, complained the bill would give governors too much discretion to spend money without oversight — creating an “$85 million slush fund where we’re giving the governor a little bucket of money … and he’s going to get to pick winners and losers,” David Richardson argued.
He voted for it anyway.
“We don’t want to support this slush fund but, if we don’t vote for it, we can’t get the money for Visit Florida. And that’s all part of the design,” he said. “Members, welcome to sausage-making.”
The bill, HB 1-A, envisions an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to support infrastructure and job training programs. It would not allow grants to individual businesses. There’d be another $76 million for Visit Florida tourism marketing.
The Senate version, SB 2-A, provides for tighter oversight. For example, projects more than $750,000 would need approval by a special legislative committee. Those worth more than $500,000 would need to be posted on the organization’s website for 14 days before they take effect.
The House pushed to end both programs during the regular session; the Senate sided with Scott in favor. House leaders relented following the session after Scott agreed to limit grants to broad infrastructure and training investments.
Republican Randy Fine said he was prepared to trust that Scott — a wealthy businessman who doesn’t draw his salary — “will spend this money in the best way possible.”
Furthermore, the bill could “serve as a model to the country for how economic development should work. Maybe we can lead the country away from this notion from handing money out to companies,” and toward investments in infrastructure and job training.
“This is a great compromise,” Fine said.
Democrat Kionne McGhee didn’t buy it.
“What we are doing today is creating a political action committee for the governor,” he said. “This is not a slush fund or trust fund — this is a state-sponsored PAC.”
Jim Boyd, a Republican who sits on Enterprise Florida’s board, insisted the bill represents a fair compromise. “We don’t always end up where we started out, and that’s a good thing,” he said.