TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis wasted little time announcing the state has $40 million for economic-development projects his office can fund during the fiscal year that began Monday.
The governor’s office sent out a news release Monday morning noting that applications were being accepted for the Job Growth Grant Fund, which was created under former Gov. Rick Scott as an alternative to giving incentive money directly to companies that promised to bring new jobs and facilities to the state.
Money from the fund is supposed to go for job training and public infrastructure projects.
“We know the importance infrastructure projects and workforce training has on economic development,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.
The $40 million is part of the state’s $90.98 billion budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year that took effect Monday.
DeSantis did not persuade lawmakers to put $85 million into the fund, an amount that Scott, now a U.S. senator, received for the program in each of his final two years as governor.
The fund was created in 2017 after a legislative battle about incentives, including a failed request by Scott in 2016 to provide $250 million in economic-development money that could go directly to businesses.
Former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who is now the state education commissioner, repeatedly called such incentives “corporate welfare.”
Some Democrats, meanwhile, initially criticized the Job Growth Grant Fund as a “slush fund” that lacked oversight.
The economic-development agency Enterprise Florida and the state Department of Economic Opportunity are required to review proposals before awards are granted.
Ken Lawson, executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, said in a statement Monday the money will go to “smart strategic investments.”
During the 2019 legislative session, budget leaders, before agreeing to the $40 million, expressed some concerns about the wide discretion the governor had in using the money for regional projects.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, noted early in the session that his primary concern was that the “legislators are appropriators, not the executive.”
In one of his final acts as governor, Scott effectively tapped the remaining dollars from the fund for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which ended Sunday. Projects included $5 million to the town of Callahan to provide water and wastewater service to an 1,841-acre industrial site; $4.7 million for Lakeland to develop two hangar facilities at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport; and $2.3 million for Bradford County to build an access road through the Keystone Heights Airport.
Over the two years, Scott used the fund to assist 56 projects across the state.
In the past fiscal year, more than 100 proposals, seeking a combined $620 million in funding, were submitted to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.