Budget conference: House gives Gov. DeSantis jobs grant money, sticks to defunding economic development programs
Ed Hooper brings it for VISIT FLORIDA.

'We’re moving close on that issue, the Enterprise Florida piece, not the Visit Florida. That’s unresolved totally.'

The Conference Committee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development is kicking off formal negotiations between the House and Senate, and the House made a significant move in agreeing to fund the Job Growth Grant Fund at $75 million, as the Senate prefers.

The Monday morning meeting was the first conference meeting as the chambers seek to work out differences in their respective spending plans.

Gov. Ron DeSantis originally requested $100 million for the Job Growth Grant Fund, but the House’s initial budget only included $25 million.

The chambers, though, remain at odds over major economic development programs: Enterprise Florida, which recruits businesses to relocate or expand in the state, and VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing arm.

DeSantis is currently on a trade mission in Japan, with stops in Israel, South Korea and the United Kingdom. The trip is aided by Enterprise Florida, but that’s not saving it from being axed in the budget.

Nevertheless, Sen. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican who chairs the Senate economic development budget committee, said DeSantis’ absence from Tallahassee during crucial budget talks won’t affect his agenda in the final spending plan, and noted he’d be influential no matter what because of his veto pen.

“I didn’t anticipate him being involved in this process at all. He gets the last bite of the apple,” Hooper said.

The House wants to eliminate $12 million in funding for Enterprise Florida and remove references to the public-private group in state statute in HB 5, which doesn’t have a Senate companion measure. House members also want to defund VISIT FLORIDA entirely, but the Senate is sticking to its preference for $80 million for the program, which received $50 million in the current budget.

Hooper indicated he expects the issue of VISIT FLORIDA to be decided by the full budget conference chairs later this week.

“We’re moving close on that issue, the Enterprise Florida piece, not the VISIT FLORIDA,” Hooper said. “That’s unresolved totally.”

Other major items of contention within this area of the budget include the House’s plan to add $270,000 to the Office of Election Crimes and Security while the Senate has no additional funds. There’s also the issue of litigation expenses for the Department of State, which typically must defend election law changes made by the Legislature. The House prefers $1.3 million, while the Senate has $3 million.

Budget conference subcommittees will meet throughout the week to resolve differences in each area. When remaining issues reach an impasse, they will be “bumped” to the full budget conference committee.

Lawmakers must reach an agreement on a final spending plan by May 2 to meet the 72-hour “cooling off” period required by the state constitution before they can vote on the budget to avoid pushing the Regular Session past its scheduled May 5 end date.

Gray Rohrer

One comment

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