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Bob Sparks: Battle over economic incentives features unlikely alliances

Sometimes during legislative sessions some unusual partnerships develop. Unlikely alliances can form to pass or defeat a measure that fits a common goal.

Florida has provided a prime example of such teamwork. The philosophy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” syndrome has played out in the area of economic incentives.

House Bill 1325, simply titled “Economic Development,” is the cause of back and forth between legislators, as well as between the executive branch and lobbyists. There is bipartisan support for and bipartisan opposition against this contentious bill.

HB 1325 provides, among several other things, that companies wishing to come to Florida and create 150 new jobs and a cumulative investment of $150 million may be eligible for a $3.5 million to $4.5 million grant. A sliding scale for lower impact means a lower grant.

Among the many other provisions are financial incentives for keeping Major League Baseball teams for spring training, and communities dependent on the defense industry, along with many others. It could be rightly known as comprehensive economic incentives reform.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Jim Boyd, repeatedly stated that no state money is committed to incentives. The companies must first keep their pledges before receiving any incentives.

Opponents referred to the bill as corporate welfare. The obligatory comments about giving tax money to “fat cats” entered the dialogue as the vote neared.

The legislation passed the House 79-39 on Wednesday. These numbers roughly reflect the Republican vs. Democrat breakdown of the chamber, but this was far from a party-line vote.

Voting in support was a large majority of Republicans led by Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Majority Leader Dana Young. Voting in opposition was a majority of Democrats led by House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, who had a prominent conservative ally.

The Koch brothers-supported Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is a fierce opponent of this bill. Not one dime, it says, should go to corporations for this purpose.

This did not sit well with Enterprise Florida CEO Bill Johnson, who is representing the interests of his agency and Gov. Rick Scott. He made his views clear.

When Johnson pointed out that Koch Industries has gotten $196 million in government incentives, AFP had a quick retort:

“Newsflash, AFP is not Koch Industries.”

It is a fact the Koch brothers are the bogeymen of Democratic politicians, many times to ridiculous extremes (listen to Harry Reid some time). But when Chris Hudson, the state director of a group supported by the Kochs engages in a food fight with a representative of a Republican administration, their previous actions will receive scrutiny.

Is there some hypocrisy going on? We report, you decide.

While most voted with their party’s majority, some interesting defections make this a must-watch bill in the Senate. While Crisafulli and Young supported the bill, Speaker pro tempore Matt Hudson and Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran were among the 39.

Also voting against the bill, which is supported by Scott, was Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. This is not the first time these two have been on opposite sides. Ingoglia defeated Scott’s preferred candidate, Leslie Dougher, for RPOF chairman 14 months ago.

Not only was Republican leadership split on this bill, so too were the Democrats. Negating Pafford’s “nay” was a “yes” from Democratic Leader pro tempore Mia Jones. Several other Democrats joined with the majority.

Conservatives and liberals voted for the bill while conservatives and liberals voted against the bill. It was Doc Holliday joining the Earps to fight the Clantons at OK Corral. Each side would argue the other personified the Clantons.

While only a few can appreciate the legislative process also known as sausage making, this one is worth watching. It is one of the final pieces of the puzzle that will help determine the 2016-17 state budget.

It will be a fascinating final two weeks.


Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Written By

Bob Sparks is a former political consultant who previously served as spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Attorney General. He was a senior adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Before entering politics, he spent nearly two decades in professional baseball administration. He can be reached at rjsparks24@gmail.com and Twitter @BobSparksFL.

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