Rick Scott really, really wants the Legislature to back his reforms for Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization. At the top of his wish list is a request for $250 million to help the agency lure out-of-state companies to take up business in the Sunshine State.
As part of his advocacy, Scott has been recruiting mayors throughout the state to back his proposals. On Monday he snagged his biggest “get” yet in Tampa Democratic Mayor Bob Buckhorn, whose office issued a news release announcing his support.
“Enterprise Florida is a valuable resource to Tampa and their efforts have paid off for our city through the creation of well-paying jobs brought by respected employers such as Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb, Ashley Furniture and others,” Buckhorn said in the prepared statement. “The strong partnerships between Enterprise Florida, the City of Tampa, and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation are key factors in how Tampa continues to lead the state in job creation.”
Enterprise Florida was funded at $43 million last year, or about half of the $85 million Scott requested, and he has been pushing for a funding increase ever since. The $250 million request would be Enterprise Florida’s highest funding level yet, if approved. Incentives were funded at $102 million in the 2013 budget and $71 million in 2014.
Scott also wants a faster approval process for getting incentive money to companies. His plan would require any deal needing more than $1 million in incentive money to be approved by the Senate president, House Speaker and the governor, rather than the whole Legislature.
However, he’s received substantial pushback from the Florida Senate, which favors a program that would set aside money for previously approved, contractually obligated business incentives as well as future performance payments.
In October members of the Senate Appropriations Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Subcommittee slammed Bill Johnson, CEO and president of Enterprise Florida, for requesting more money for his agency.
“That money is in a graveyard, practically,” Venice Republican Nancy Detert told Johnson. “You’re not funding even 50 percent of the projects in your pipeline … I have trouble with you telling everybody you’re poor.”
Buckhorn, a lifelong Democrat who has previously said he’s interested in running for governor in 2018, somewhat famously remained neutral in the Rick Scott-Charlie Crist battle for governor in 2014. He later said he voted for Crist.