Doubling down on his opposition to taxpayer-funded economic incentives, House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes) is proposing sweeping legislation that would eliminate the state's main economic development agencies, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.
- Proposed Committee Bill would eliminate Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida
- Sponsor House Speaker Corcoran says both agencies are corporate welfare
- Gov. Rick Scott opposes the move
- READ the bill: PCB CCS 17-01 (.PDF)
The measure was filed Thursday and will receive its first committee hearing next week. If Corcoran's previous condemnation of Gov. Rick Scott's request for $161 million in new incentive funding was a shot across the bow, his bill eliminating the very agencies that run the state's incentive programs amounts to an act of war.
The speaker has compared Enterprise Florida's business incentive deals - many of which have failed to deliver promised new jobs - to a "corporate welfare" scheme that allows state leaders to "pick winners and losers."
Corcoran has also lambasted Visit Florida for questionable spending, including paying the rapper Pitbull $1 million to produce and promote a Florida-themed music video.
As public trust in the agencies has continued to erode, Corcoran has suggested even thorough house cleanings may not be adequate.
"You know, those bumper stickers you see on cars, and it says 'blank happens?' I will tell you what we say is philosophy happens," Corcoran told a gathering of state capitol reporters and editors this week. "Know your philosophy, and then have the courage to fight for that philosophy regardless of the consequences -- even if it means your political death."
Other funds are also in jeopardy, including the Capital Investment Tax Credit program, the Urban High-Crime Area Job Tax Credit Program, the Qualified Defense Contractor/Spaceflight Business Tax Refund Program, and the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund Program.
For Scott, who even before Corcoran's rise to prominence was rapidly approaching lame duck status, the evisceration of the agencies would represent a bold rejection of his agenda by his fellow Republicans. With a month remaining before the start of the 2017 legislative session, however, the governor still has time to regain his footing.
"It's a process. You're competing," Scott said of the incentive programs. "We're not the only place that people can go. We have great weather, we had great weather back in 2010 when we lost all those jobs."
But Scott may have to contend with an array of forces that have aligned with Corcoran against incentives.
"Some of the things that the speaker is doing is creating some strange bedfellows," observed Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO who has paradoxically found himself in agreement with conservatives representing the Florida chapter of the Koch-supported Americans for Prosperity.
"More often than not, it's kind of an insider baseball game," Templin said. "Somebody wins, somebody loses -- we agree with the speaker on that one -- somebody wins, somebody loses, but at the end of the day, what the taxpayers get, the way Gov. Scott does it, they don't get anything."
What are Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida?
Enterprise Florida is a public-private partnership between Florida business leaders and government leaders for economic development.
EFI is funded with state funds and with funds from specific organizations. It's a quasi-government agency that acts as the state's commerce department, but it's run like a business with a 64-member board of directors. It's considered one of the first in the country.
As much as 90 percent of the agency's operations come from taxpayer funds, also though EFI's new CEO Chris Hart insists the economic incentives themselves are matched with funds from private companies.
The agency's goal is to bring more jobs to Florida and diversify the state's industries. Gov. Scott says EFI is instramental in bringing jobs to the state since the recession.
Gov. Scott has tried to expand EFI's role in job creation and tried to expand its budget since taking office. In 2015, the governor requested $250 million for a fund for the agency, giving it a way to fast track incentives to out-of-state companies that commit to doing business in Florida. That was met with resistance from state lawmakers.
An audit in May 2016 showed Enterprise Florida was top heavy with management, spent too much of its budget on office space and did not do a good enough job of making sure there was no financial mismanagement. It said Hart's successor spent lavishly on hotels and renovations.
Before Corcoran's bill, state lawmakers began debating a measure that would reform the agency and force more accountability.
Visit Florida is the state's tourism marketing agency, also a public-private partnership paid for with Florida funds and private funds, which private companies match dollar for dollar, according to the annual audit.
In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the state allocated $74 million to Visit Florida, which included money from various funds, and the state's per day rental car surcharge. The agency has staff all over the world to promote tourism year-round.
But Visit Florida also came under fire last year after it was revealed it paid rapper Pitbull $1 million to promote tourism. The details of the deal were kept public. Pitbull promoted the state in social media and in a music video called "Sexy Beaches."
The agency also spent $1.2 million to advertise with a British soccer team, amd more than $2.8 million to fund a Le Mans-style car racing team.
Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe resigned as a result of the backlash.