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House passes incentives measure desired by Rick Scott

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After a debate that included mentions of monsters, Robert A. Heinlein and the Tampa Bay Rays, the Florida House of Representatives Wednesday passed its 2016 business and economic incentives package, including the framework for Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund.

As bill sponsor Jim Boyd reminded members, it still has no funding: “This is a structure bill, a policy bill,” he said, explaining that how much money goes to incentives still must be decided in the budget process. 

The legislation (HB 1325) will provide “more oversight, more control and will foster growth for all businesses throughout Florida,” he told members.

But his measure fractured the usual party-line vote on high-profile measures: Those in favor included members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who had held a closed-door meeting Tuesday after the House first started considering the bill.

Caucus chairman Ed Narain, a Tampa Democrat, did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment after the vote.

Those opposed included dozens of Republicans, including Speaker pro tempore Matt Hudson of Naples, House budget chief Richard Corcoran and state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

In a statement, the governor thanked the House, saying he wants to “protect taxpayer money by ensuring no incentive dollar leaves the state until we have confirmed a company’s economic investment or job creation in Florida.”

The Florida Enterprise Fund “will also diversify our economy at a key time in our state’s history to help guard against another economic downturn, and make Florida first for jobs in the country,” Scott said. “As the legislative process continues, we’ll continue working closely with the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors and Senate and House members on finalizing this legislation.”

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat and Black Caucus member, said he supported the bill because the businesses it could help attract may wind up in his district, bringing jobs to many of the depressed areas he represents.

It might also help keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, he added, even as the team considers a move to a possible new ballpark in Tampa.

But Rouson also offered a caveat: “I believe in the free market but I don’t believe the free market always believes in me.”

His support and that of his colleagues galled state Rep. Kristin Jacobs, however, who chided the back row about “ghost companies” and their lack of jobs.

“Wake up,” she said. “You’re not going to get the money you think you’re going to get.”

Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat and former Broward County mayor, even compared the measure’s supporters to prostitutes, saying they cut a deal for their votes.

She quoted science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein about “just haggling over the price.” (The quote, by the way, has a complicated history.)

State Rep. Amanda Murphy, a New Port Richey Democrat, apologized to her constituents for the bill, saying the legislative process “makes monsters out of men.”

And Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat, called it “a quarter-billion-dollar slush fund” that would only “make a few fat cats that much fatter.”

Even supporters struggled to rise to the same level of histrionics.

“It is not rosy but it is not the status quo, which is what we have had,” said Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Keystone Heights Republican.

He had planned to vote ‘no,’ but said Boyd had won him over with multiple text messages that included pleas of “you got to support my bill.” 

“And I don’t text,” Van Zant added.

The Senate already committed to the fund, with state Sen. Jack Latvala championing both the idea and the dollar amount, but wants to use money coming from the settlement over the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Legislators are still awaiting an announcement of the 2016-17 “allocations,” the big silos of money available for each major section of the 2016-17 state budget to be worked out by House budget chief Richard Corcoran and Senate budget Chairman Tom Lee. 

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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