Saying that he is “shocked” that a committee in the Florida House voted to kill funding for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida last week, Governor Rick Scott came to Tampa on Monday to urge the public to urge their state legislators to maintain the funding for those two besieged agencies.
“This is an important issue to me personally,” Scott said in his comments to reporters after concluding the second of three scheduled appearances around the state in what his staff is calling a “Fighting for Florida Jobs Roundtable.”
Now in his sixth year as chief executive, the “jobs governor” has taken it as a personal rebuke that lawmakers aren’t on the same page with him when it comes to fully funding the public-private agencies. His arguments for maintaining the funding are wide and varied, including his statement on Monday that a flourishing economy could enable the state to put more money into education and the developmentally disabled, but only if the Legislature comes through to support the agencies.
“Our economy is on a roll. This is crazy to stop this!” he said after hosting the roundtable at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in North Tampa.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Visit Hillsborough CEO Santiago Corrada, Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott and dozens of other members from the business community sat in chairs three rows deep in a semi-circle in what was a virtual half-hour informercial for the two programs, under fire in the House as being an example of “corporate welfare” in a campaign led by Speaker Richard Corcoran.
“I am shocked that members of the Florida House of Representatives, politicians in Tallahassee, are turning their back on job creation,” Scott said, specifically calling out New Tampa House District 63 Republican Shawn Harrison for his vote in the House Career and Competition Subcommittee last week that would eliminate the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, and VISIT Florida, the tourism marketing agency, as well as a host of economic incentive programs.
Harrison narrowly won re-election last November over Democrat Lisa Montelione in HD 63, considered one of the most extreme “swing” districts in the state. The former Tampa City Council initially won the seat in 2010 but lost it in 2012 before returning back to the House in 2014.
“I’m still shocked that Shawn Harrison voted the way he did,” Scott repeated several times during the half-hour roundtable, and later when speaking with reporters afterwards. He repeatedly issued out positive statistics about the state’s economy, saying Florida’s job growth was double the national average, and that there was $771 million that came from tourists last year. Time and again, he went after the critics of the two agencies.
“What Shawn Harrison and other House members are saying – ‘oh we’re not worried about jobs anymore’ – that’s wrong!” he exclaimed. “That’s somebody’s life!”
During his presentation, he mocked anybody who voted against the programs. “How could anybody? I can’t imagine anybody who runs for office saying, ‘I’m for getting rid of jobs.’ Absolutely not.”
Scott’s pleas to maintain full funding for EF and VF sometimes reached new lengths.
“I’ve watched my mom cry because she couldn’t pay for health care. I don’t want that ever to happen to a family in our state,” he said. The sentiment might surprise the majority of Floridians who are still upset about the fact that Scott rejected expanding Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act four years ago, denying health coverage to an estimated 850,000 people.
Scott did repeatedly shower his affection for Jack Latvala and Dana Young, two GOP state Senators from the Tampa Bay area who support continued funding of the agencies.
Buckhorn, a Democrat who has on occasion blasted Scott, emphasized the bipartisan nature of support for funding EF and VF. And he oozed contempt for lawmakers who want to kill the agencies. “What is happening in Tallahassee is ideology is getting in the way of the practical application of what these incentives are all about,” he said, denying that it’s a “giveaway program.”
“This would be patently absurd to cut off our nose, to spite our face, just because somebody is reading off a playbook provided to them by the Koch Brothers,” Buckhorn said.
Americans for Prosperity Florida, which receives funding from the Koch Family Foundation, is a leading state agency fighting against what they describe as corporate welfare run amok. The organization tweeted out on Monday, “Rep Harrison voted against rigged system! Why should taxpayers pay to pad special interest pockets.”
Craig Richard, the new CEO of the TampaHillsborough Economic Development Corporation, has worked in economic development for the past 20 years in six different states. “I’ve never heard anyone interested in doing away with the goose laying the golden egg,” he said.
“It’s kind of silly that we’re having this type of conversation,” Bobby Harris ,the founder and CEO of freight and logistics provider Blue Grace Logistics. He said that the incentives that helped him hire more than 100 employees in his Tampa offices would have gone to Chicago instead. He said the House vote is “not a good vote of confidence for business leaders.”
Harrison did not return a call for comment.