Senators sound skeptical of new state jobs fund - Florida Politics

Senators sound skeptical of new state jobs fund

Lawmakers asked lots of questions but didn’t get the answers they wanted Wednesday as a Senate panel tried to get a handle on the state’s new $85 million jobs fund.

The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee heard from Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) head Cissy Proctor on the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund.

In a Special Legislative Session earlier this year for economic development, tourism and education funding, Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders agreed to create the fund.

It’s aimed at creating employment by enticing businesses to relocate to the state. The fund promotes job training and public infrastructure projects.

Proctor said her department already has received 179 proposals, which include 96 infrastructure projects from local governments and 83 workforce projects, worth a combined $642 million in requested funding.

Senators soon started peppering Proctor with questions: “It’s a lot of money … we want to understand what the parameters are,” explained subcommittee chair Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, wanted to know if any preference would be given to “depressed or deprived” areas.

All proposals “stand on their own,” Proctor said: “Almost all represent incredible needs of the communities. We want the proposals to shine, to show us how deep the need is.”

When will Gov. Scott make a decision on what gets money? Bradley asked.

“I can’t tell you a timeline,” Proctor said. “We are reviewing them as they come in.”

Bradley pressed on, asking if there were any “objective standards” that the governor and staff will judge by?

“We are looking at each proposal on its own,” Proctor said. 

What about the process of how the governor will be presented with, say, staff picks of top proposals?

“We are working right now on what that will look like,” Proctor said.

Gibson later said she didn’t like what she heard: “I’m really concerned what could be done won’t reach the people who really need it.”

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, added that because demand exceeds supply, “it sets the stage for so many projects to get left behind.”

And she worried that there was no way to make sure money gets spread equally across the state.

In a statement, DEO called the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund “a critical tool for economic development in Florida,” adding it was “committed to accountability and transparency in this process.”

The department “has posted every proposal on a dedicated website, along with frequently asked questions and direct contact information for entities to call or email with any questions. Strong contracts with entities that receive these funds will ensure that each project has a strong, verifiable return on investment and taxpayer dollars are protected.”

DEO, “along with our partners at Enterprise Florida, the Florida Department of Transportation and CareerSource Florida, are working diligently to review more than 170 proposals from communities across the state,” the statement said.

“As outlined in legislation overwhelmingly passed during a special session earlier this year, projects will be approved that meet statutory criteria and promote economic opportunity in these local communities.”

By the meeting’s end, Bradley told colleagues that DEO was “asking for $85 million (next year for the fund) and they haven’t spent the first $85 million. This is the new world we’re working in.”

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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