So far, compared to last year, the current Florida legislative session has been pretty calm. But that could change in the final weeks as Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to increase funding for Enterprise Florida hits the floor. EF has gotten into a nasty, public fight with fiscal conservative critics.
State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Sarasota, is carrying Scott’s effort to send an additional $250 million to Enterprise Florida to help lure out-of-state businesses to the Sunshine State. Since it was launched in 1992, Enterprise Florida has won applause for creating thousands of jobs through targeted tax credits to companies open to relocating to the state.
Supporters, including state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, say the additional funds are needed to diversify Florida’s position and develop the framework for incentives.
But opponents say the bill is nothing more than crony capitalism. Americans for Prosperity’s (AFP) Florida chapter has been active in opposing the funds, insisting the proposal is nothing more than corporate welfare.
“Government should quit taking credit for creating jobs," Chris Hudson, AFP’s director in Florida, told Sunshine State News. “ Floridians are doing that and legislators should focus on reducing the regulatory burden and improving the tax climate by slashing wherever possible."
AFP notes 85 percent of Enterprise Florida’s funding is public and questions Enterprise Florida’s numbers. In calling out its effectiveness, AFP cites a 2013 report that discounts the total jobs actually created through Enterprise Florida.
Andres Malave, a spokesman for AFP, took to the airwaves Monday and called out how the bill is moving through the Legislature. Malave said the bill is so unpopular with constituents and several elected officials that the House “highjacked” it and blocked the public from having input. That way, representatives could rush and not add additional oversight to how Enterprise Florida uses funds. The bill was scheduled to be heard in the House Finance & Tax Committee but was pulled from the agenda.
When asked how this happened, Malave told Sunshine State News that a little known rule was applied to remove the bill from its last two committees stops to quickly move it to the House floor for a full vote.
“Using a rule like 7.19(a) isn’t completely uncommon,” Malave said. “But using the rule to fast-track one of the most contentious political footballs of the year should make lawmakers weary upon getting the opportunity to cast that vote in just a few short days.”
The fast-tracked House version is set to be heard and voted on for a final time Wednesday. The Senate version will be heard in its last committee stop when it visits Sen. Tom Lee’s Appropriations Committee.
With AFP running ads across the state on the funding, Enterprise Florida fired back Tuesday afternoon. Enterprise Florida President and CEO Bill Johnson pointed to the Koch brothers' support of AFP and called on it to end its fight against his organization.
“Yesterday, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) launched an ad to oppose the new $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund, citing it as ‘corporate welfare.’ However, Governor Scott’s proposal would support Florida’s efforts to win competitive projects with a guaranteed return on investment to ensure taxpayer dollars are protected while helping grow jobs in our state,” Johnson said. “This fund would only invest state dollars in companies when they meet their job creation and capital investment requirements, while allowing Florida to compete with other states for major job creation projects.
“According to recent news reports, Koch Industries (No. 2 on Forbes America’s Largest Private Companies list), which funds AFP, has benefited from $196 million worth of inventive money from various governments,” Johnson added. “ In addition, Koch Industries’ own spokesperson said in response to taking advantage of tax incentives that they ‘will not put ourselves and our employees at a competitive disadvantage in the current marketplace’ by declining incentive funds.
“Koch Industries is willing to use taxpayer money to benefit their business, but opposing the Florida Enterprise Fund means they will not let small and growing businesses in Florida access incentive dollars,” Johnson concluded. “AFP should immediately suspend their campaign against the Florida Enterprise Fund, which would help small and growing businesses create jobs for everyday Floridians -- not just corporate giants. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Scott’s office forwarded Johnson’s statement to the media.
Hudson fired back on Tuesday afternoon.
“Newsflash, AFP is not Koch Industries,” Hudson said. “And spreading any amount of misinformation to that point, doesn’t change the fact that AFP is composed of thousands of hardworking Americans who have tasked us with putting an end to the crony corporate welfare spending sprees that lawmakers have doled out for far too long. AFP has a long and consistent history of opposing all forms of corporate welfare, no matter what companies or industries benefit.
“Executives at Enterprise Florida, Inc., and the state employees who pushed out this erroneous attack on a private company, could better spend their time doing the job that taxpayers are paying for them to attempt to accomplish, at a rate of nearly 90-10 from taxpayer contributions in their supposed public private partnership,” Hudson added. “EFI, who has come under serious internal scrutiny of late, claims that they are trying to help small businesses create jobs, but the reality is 85% of Florida businesses have less than 10 employees and don’t qualify for the lavish handouts Bill Johnson and company want to dish out. EFI says they want to diversify the economy, but the reality is that almost half of all incentive projects from 2000 to 2010 were for the manufacturing industry. Despite that generous support from taxpayers, the percentage of our GDP from manufacturing has actually declined.”
Ed Dean, a senior editor with Sunshine State News whose talk show can be heard on radio stations in Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Daytona Beach, Orlando, the Space Coast, the Treasure Coast and South Florida from West Palm Beach to Miami. It can also be heard in parts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @eddeanradio.