Senate Minority Leader-Designate Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, extensively questioned Gov. Rick Scott‘s job growth fund Wednesday on the Senate floor.
The Governor and Republican lawmakers want to see another $85 million appropriated to the fund in the next budget.
Gibson’s hard stand against the spend is notable, as Scott chose Jacksonville on Wednesday to message on the fund, spotlighting a $6 million spend on a long-awaited road at Cecil Commerce Center as the showcase project of the press event in the notoriously friendly media market for the Governor.
Gibson questioned the mechanics of the fund in an extended dialogue with TED Appropriations Chair Wilton Simpson, including the executive branch deciding on these appropriations, and what happens with the fund once the next Governor takes office.
“I’d love to have $85 million worth of projects to take back to my district,” Gibson said to Simpson. “I’m sure you would too. Maybe you do, I’ll have to check.”
“When we ask for projects for our districts, there is a high level of accountability,” Gibson continued. “There’s an expectation that by times certain, the expenditures will be made … and if it’s not utilized, it’s returned back.”
The $85 million job growth grant fund, Gibson added, “should be ours to decide what happens in our districts, but we relinquished control to the Governor’s office.”
“Why are we not holding the administration to the same standard with our money that [our projects] are held to.”
Simpson defended the projects as having a regional impact and getting “the most bang for our buck.” Gibson noted that Jacksonville is “getting about 10 percent of the money” in the fund.
In conversation Wednesday afternoon, Gibson discussed the limitations of the fund.
“We know our districts better than [the Governor],” Gibson said, noting that the fund doesn’t seem to have guidelines for spending, leading to decisions that “start to look political,” with the Governor “playing Santa Claus.”
Gibson had asked in October if there would be preference to “depressed or deprived” areas, asserting that she was concerned after a committee meeting with Department of Economic Opportunity head Cissy Proctor that “what could be done won’t reach the people who really need it.”
Gibson noted that City of Jacksonville proposals, which included the Cecil Field road and Imeson industrial park, are not in her district. And she believes the money could have gone farther helping small and medium-sized businesses.
Gibson is facing a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, who he has yet to file, but confirmed his intent to run last week.
Brown believes that Gibson’s tenure is one of missed opportunities. He texted: “I am running [because] I believe I can bring more state $ to North Florida and the time to do it is now!”