State Sen. Jack Latvala brought up “the elephant in the room” during remarks on the 2016-17 state budget Friday, lamenting the lack of a $250 million business incentives fund, a priority of Gov. Rick Scott.
The Clearwater Republican, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development, said the absence of the Florida Enterprise Fund was the “most disappointing point of this session.”
With the current amount of incentive dollars dwindling, Scott wanted the new pot of money to lure businesses and their jobs to the Sunshine State. But the House’s GOP leadership declined to put any money into it, and the Senate later agreed.
After some initial skepticism in the early part of the 2016 Legislative Session, Latvala came around to the idea and supported it.
When it became clear the plan would be a victim of budget negotiations, he penned an op-ed blaming the fund’s demise on “ideologues” in House leadership.
On the floor Friday, Latvala detailed how “day after day, our sheets went back and forth, and every single time the response was zero. Not even an offer in the middle” or starting somewhere over zero funding.
“We now have zero in the Quick Action Closing Fund, our most important economic development tool,” Latvala told his colleagues. He used the example of a business that was interested in relocating to Sen. Aaron Bean‘s district in Fernandina Beach.
Now, “we won’t get it,” he said. “And we’ll hear more about these (losses) without any ammunition in the gun.”
State Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, asked Latvala whether the rest of the economic development silo of the budget has the potential “to create tens of thousands of jobs?”
Latvala agreed, saying he was proud of next year’s $82.3 billion budget, “but not the zero in the incentives.”