Scott wants $250 million to lure businesses to Florida


TALLAHASSEE, Fla – Gov. Rick Scott, pressing reluctant lawmakers to fund a "nearly bankrupt" effort to recruit businesses to Florida, said Thursday he will ask for $250 million in 2016 for corporate incentives, with new rules on how the money would be approved and banked.

Scott, addressing the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors in Orlando, also ratcheted up his call for business leaders to lobby lawmakers for the money, advising them not to give in until each legislator publicly announces support for the funding plan.

"If they (lawmakers) don't put out a press release and say, 'I absolutely will support these reforms,' then that's a no," Scott said.

Scott spoke with Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, before the Enterprise Florida meeting. But Gardiner, whose members have been skeptical of the public-private business recruitment agency's claims about a lack of available incentive money, isn't ready to make a decision on Scott's request.

"The president told the governor that he was looking forward to reviewing the governor's proposal in more detail in the coming weeks," Gardiner spokeswoman Katie Betta said in an email.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said he was looking forward to seeing the details of Scott's proposal.

"I know we all share the goal of keeping Florida a national leader in job creation," Crisafulli said in a prepared statement.

The $250 million is part of Scott's proposal to change the incentives-funding process under Enterprise Florida.

He also wants lawmakers to: create the Florida Enterprise Fund, a trust fund that would keep designated incentive money in the state treasury until companies reach job-creation goals; and to let the House speaker and Senate president sign off on deals that top $1 million instead of waiting for the Joint Legislative Budget Commission to give approval.

Currently, money the state promises a business for relocating to Florida or expanding in the state is placed into a low-yield commercial escrow account, with payouts made when promised new jobs and economic-development performance measures are met.

Lawmakers have been questioning the use of escrow accounts.

Gardiner has proposed the state set an annual statutory cap of $50 million to cover future economic incentive payments, which he noted have never topped $20 million in a single year.

Scott, calling his proposed trust fund the "Let's beat Texas' butt enterprise fund," said the use of the treasury will give the state a better interest rate than the escrow accounts.

Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson, an Enterprise Florida board member, called the $250 million request, with the quicker approval process, "a good start."

"This is about diversifying the economy, which is why this organization was created," Wilson said of Enterprise Florida.

Earlier this year, Scott asked lawmakers to set aside $85 million for business incentives. The final budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 included $53 million for Enterprise Florida, of which $43 million was for incentives and $10 million was for marketing.

Scott said his latest request is needed to compete with other states, such as New York, which has $150 million for incentives; Texas, which has $90 million; South Carolina, which has $58 million; and Georgia, which has $46 million.

"We're not going to beat these states if we don't reform the Quick Action Closing Fund," said Scott, who repeated a claim he's made since August that the fund used to complete incentive deals is "nearly bankrupt" for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"I don't care what anybody says, it will in fact, run out of money," Scott said.

Members of the Senate Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee questioned such claims Tuesday. They noted that about $141 million is currently held in escrow and that over the prior four years, $112 million that had been available for the agency's recruitment "toolkit" went unspent.