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Does splitting bill in two edge Enterprise Florida closer to chopping block?

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Democratic lawmaker David Richardson appears to be getting his Enterprise Florida wish from his conservative House colleagues.

The Miami Beach state rep won’t be getting a grant from the taxpayer-supported economic incentive organization; rather he’ll soon have a chance to help abolish it.

House leadership, headed by Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, will be splitting a bill aimed at eliminating Enterprise Florida and reducing Visit Florida’s taxpayer-funded tourism marketing budget by 67 percent into two bills, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The move incorporates feedback from a House Appropriations Committee last week.

“I have very little good to say about Enterprise Florida and the way it has been conducted in the past,” Richardson said during the committee meeting, echoing sentiments from the organization’s toughest critics.

But after recounting several issues, such as the public-private partnership’s 90-10 taxpayer-to-private funding ratio, poor performance and a cash “slush fund” used to purchase furniture and pay for travel, Richardson voted against cutting Enterprise Florida.

He disagreed with the proposed funding reduction on Visit Florida, so said he had no other choice but to cast a dissenting vote because the two organizations were packaged together.

“But if you pull out Enterprise Florida … I’d be happy to kill it for you,” he said.

Splitting the bill in two also honors Rep. Paul Renner’s, R-Palm Coast, commitment to Democratic Minority Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, to allow for further debate on Visit Florida funding. With that promise, Cruz, the highest-ranking House Democrat, voted to eliminate Enterprise Florida last week.

Richardson, Cruz and other Democrats will have an opportunity to vote with their GOP counterparts, perhaps by late next week.

HB 7005 is scheduled to be split Monday in the House Rules and Policy Committee. All references to Visit Florida will be moved to a new bill, HB 9, and the remaining language would eliminate Enterprise Florida, as well as the Office of Film and Entertainment and 22 other incentive programs.

The formal legislative session begins Tuesday, and House lawmakers could schedule floor votes on both bills before the end of the week.

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, is vehemently opposed to eliminating Enterprise Florida and reducing funding for Visit Florida. Scott wants $85 million and $76 million for the taxpayer-supported organizations, respectively, this year.

Corcoran and Scott released dueling videos last week in an attempt to build public support for their positions. Corcoran’s message, Session is Coming, focuses on ridding the legislature of “corporate welfare,” while Scott’s Fighting for Florida Jobs features business leaders and economic development officials touting the benefits of public assistance.

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William Patrick reports for Florida Watchdog. Contact him at wpatrick@watchdog.org and on Twitter.

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