Good on you, Jason Steele, for being the first person in the Space Florida boardroom to talk about the elephant.
“We have not had a target on our back, but I promise you, and my crystal ball is very clear, the target will be on our back,” Steele told his fellow Space Florida directors, as they reaffirmed a one-million-dollar line of credit for the folks behind a secret-something called Project Ice.
For all the public knew, the loan was going to Vanilla Ice, at a time when secret deals with rappers have fallen out of favor.
Steele’s warning seems to have had an effect. Within days, Space Florida revealed that the line of credit is for Made in Space, ” a Silicon Valley company with a growing Florida presence, for a project that aims to produce a higher-quality optical fiber aboard the International Space Station.”
Steele noted VISIT Florida’s claim that the public got 9-bucks on the dollar rate of return on its trade-secret intensive investment with Pitbull. We now know that the Miami rapper was paid a cool million to encourage millennials to come to Florida to get drunk and screw, an idea that might not otherwise have occurred to the kids. Steele warned that rate of return questions would be coming Space Florida’s way, too, and they’d best be prepared with answers that don’t make people laugh out loud.
Florida has a long history of public-private partnerships where private partners got the profits and the public got the bill. Most of these deals have been covered quite well by Florida’s newspapers, in spite of the “trade secret” exemptions to the public records laws which have been multiplying like rabbits in recent years.
Beleaguered taxpayers picked up the tabs and suffered in silence because, as philosopher Bruce Springsteen observed, “you can’t start a fire without a spark.” Now that VISIT Florida has provided a blowtorch, pols and press will no longer be content to take an executive director’s word on ROI. They’ll want to know who did the research, and what they got paid to do it. Steele wisely wants Space Florida to get its “tools in the toolbox” … before they get hammered.