The Senate’s frustration at the cosy new relationship between Gov. Rick Scott and the House showed during debate in the Committee on Commerce and Tourism on a compromise economic incentives and tourism-marketing plan.
Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, presenting the bill, noted the criticism over “backroom dealmaking” involving the budget approved during an extended regular session last month. “Even, I think, from the governor,” he said.
So, rather than pass the House version of the bill, worked out between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Scott, Latvala presented a version that boosts oversight over economic development grants and contains other Senate priorities.
He was not about to accept the House version as the “Holy Grail,” Latvala said.
“I will assure you that I’m going to continue with that same attitude over the next couple of days. And we may or may not get a bill here. But we’re not going to get a bill that we’re stuffed with and we’re told we have to pass without amendments. I’m done doing that.”
During the regular session, the Senate took positions much closer to Scott’s than did the House.
A House committee approved that chamber’s version earlier in the day.
SB 2-A would provide $85 million for Enterprise Florida and $66 million for Visit Florida. The money for that first organization would be spent through a Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, “to promote economic opportunity by improving public infrastructure and enhance workforce training.”
The grants could not be used “for the exclusive benefit of any single company, corporation, or business entity.”
Additionally, the Senate bill would withdraw $107 million already committed to projects from an escrow account and move it into an account where it could attract 3 percent or 4 percent interest — instead of the nominal return it draws now.
“It’s just a prudent business decision,” Latvala said.
The Department of Economic Opportunity and Enterprise Florida would recommend grant recipients to the governor, including local infrastructure projects to promote economic activity. The money would be funneled through local governments.
State colleges and technical centers would qualify for workforce training grants targeting “transferrable, sustainable” skills “applicable to more than a single employer.”
Infrastructure projects would be strictly for public ownership and use.
Any money not spent under the existing Quick Action Closure Fund — a pot of cash used to close deals bringing companies to Florida — as of July 1 would revert to the state.
Enterprise Florida would run under a strict 50:50 mix of public money and private donations. And its contracts and operations would fall under public scrutiny.
No employee could earn more than the governor — around $130,000 at the moment.
As for Visit Florida, its staff would become subject to the same daily expense limits as state employees, even though Visit Florida is not a state agency. The bill also tightens financial disclosure requirements for corporate officers.
Deals by both agencies worth more than $750,000 would be subject to review by a Legislative Budget Commission or, alternatively, the House speaker and Senate president.