TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Back from a trade mission to Argentina that took place while legislative leaders hammered out details of the budget in private, Gov. Rick Scott continued a push for his top priorities --- the state's tourism marketing agency, incentives for businesses and Lake Okeechobee dike repairs.
Scott's office announced in his absence that a cut to Visit Florida spending would negatively impact both the state's revenue and bond ratings, but the governor stopped short of threatening to veto any budget that fails to fulfill his funding requests.
Addressing reporters outside his Capitol office between individual meetings with more than a dozen lawmakers, Scott said there is a lot of “frustration” over the way the session is going. But the governor repeated that he intends to review the budget after it reaches his desk.
“I'm going to look at all my opportunities,” Scott said, when asked about a potential budget veto. “I'll go through the budget. I'm going to do whatever is the best for the citizens of this state.”
The House and Senate have reportedly reached agreement on a number of key budget issues, negotiating in favor of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's desire to eliminate Enterprise Florida and to cap tourism funding for Visit Florida at $25 million.
Scott initially sought $76 million for Visit Florida, upping the request to $100 million on April 18.
“I cannot believe that legislators don't understand the value of continuing to market the state,” Scott said on Thursday. “We've gone from 82 million tourists a year before I got elected (to) last year almost 113 million tourists. That's a lot of jobs.”
Lawmakers last spring allocated $78 million for Visit Florida, for the current year that ends June 30. But Corcoran and other leaders have harshly criticized the public-private agency over its $11.6 million sponsorship of a cooking show hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, a $1 million contract with rapper Pitbull, and ongoing sponsorship deals with London-based Fulham Football Club and an IMSA racing team.
Scott accused lawmakers of having “turned their backs on constituents” by failing to fund his priorities.
“I don't understand how we're turning our backs,” House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, told reporters Thursday evening. “I think we're turning our backs on Floridians when there's waste and abuse and people are spending money who do absolutely nothing to have it. I think that's turning our backs on constituents.“
Scott wants $85 million for economic business incentives through Enterprise Florida, which House leaders have repeatedly labeled “corporate welfare.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala said the House has agreed to provide operational funding for Enterprise Florida.
"That's a long way from where the House was when they wanted to do away with both of them,” Latvala, R-Clearwater said, Thursday. “You just have to compromise and try to move on and keep things going and wait for tomorrow for another shot."
Earlier this session, the House signed off on Corcoran's plan to abolish Enterprise Florida and a number of other economic development programs, rolling many of the agency's functions into the Department of Economic Opportunity.
Scott's request for $200 million to help the federal government speed repairs to the dike around Lake Okeechobee came late in the session, scheduled to end on May 5. The request is intended to aid Senate President Joe Negron's request to speed construction of a reservoir south of the lake as part of a regional water cleanup project.
But Trujillo sounded skeptical when asked about the money for the dike, saying Scott did not include it in his original budget request.
“So if you look at the governor's original budget that he presented to my committee and presented to the Senate, at no point did we ever discuss $200 million,” Trujillo said.
When asked, Trujillo said the project has merit.
But, he added, “I don't think there is merit in ever lending the federal government $200 million they should be responsible for.”
Scott walked the halls of the Capitol early Thursday afternoon, meeting individually with lawmakers --- a rarity for the governor whose visits with legislators have been confined to Scott's office.
Latvala said Scott talked about “how nice Argentina was and all the economic development things he's got in the works as a result of going to Argentina.”
But Latvala remained mum about the rest of his discussion with the governor.
Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon said the prospects of a veto override by lawmakers never came up during his visit with Scott.
"He told me about his priorities,” Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said. “I kind of talked about some of the things that we (Democrats) didn't like that we had heard about."