Florida House, Senate Reach Deal on Business Incentives
By Jim Turner, The News Serivice of Florida // June 9, 2015
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASEE, FLORIDA – The Senate added $5 million to its business-incentives offer late Monday after lawmakers cleared up a “misunderstanding” that earlier in the day put an unexpected halt to budget talks on transportation, tourism and economic-development issues.
Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, praised House Speaker Steve Crisafulli for helping clear up the dispute, which arose when a number of senators thought they had not received an adequate explanation about why the House early Monday boosted its proposed funding for Enterprise Florida Inc. to $39 million.
“He took a lot of responsibility for our little misunderstanding,” said Latvala, who met with Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, behind closed-doors to discuss the impasse. “We’re ready to be back in business.”
Latvala was among the senators who had believed the two sides were close to a settlement on the incentives and claimed a “lack of respect” when the House came out with the $39 million proposal.
Over the weekend, the Senate had offered $30 million, while the House’s offer stood at $25 million.
House Transportation & Economic Development Appropriations Chairman Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, said Monday night the House may have misread some signals from the senators regarding economic-incentives funding. He also downplayed the incident by saying senators were just showing emotions as the two chambers seek to complete a budget before the end of next week.
“We’re here in this fishbowl … all the attention is on us, it’s easy for tempers to flare,” Ingram said.
The two chambers, which will continue to work Tuesday on the transportation and economic-development portion of the budget, now appear set to allocate $35 million for business incentives for Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic-development agency.
Enterprise Florida is also in line to receive another $6 million for the agency’s new marketing brand.
Latvala advised lobbyists and lawmakers not to expect getting all their funding requests even with a $12 billion budget for transportation, tourism and economic development. Transportation accounts for $10.1 billion of the spending package.
“Somebody has to give up something,” Latvala said.
“There are only so many dollars to spend, and we have not been successful in getting any more money into the committee.”
Gov. Rick Scott has requested $85 million for the business-recruitment efforts and $5 million for branding, and Enterprise Florida has been upping its own efforts to secure a larger funding amount than proposed by lawmakers.
After a morning meeting, Latvala charged that the new House funding proposal could be a thanks to Scott for siding with the House in a battle about a Senate plan to use federal Medicaid expansion money to help lower-income Floridians purchase private health insurance. The House decisively rejected the Senate plan Friday.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, went further, saying “I do,” when asked if the House was doing Scott’s bidding.
Crisafulli acknowledged his chamber has heard from the governor’s office on the incentives. But Crisafulli otherwise dismissed Latvala’s contention.
“The House has always been interested in economic incentives, and this is part of that process,” Crisafulli told reporters after a brief House session on Monday.
Scott’s office deferred comment to statements made earlier in the day by Bill Johnson, Florida’s secretary of commerce and chief executive officer of Enterprise Florida.
Johnson urged members of Enterprise Florida’s board of directors executive committee to keep up the pressure on lawmakers, as the agency has been pushing the Legislature to reach Scott’s $85 million proposal.
“There is no need for EFI to exist if we cannot garner the support of our Florida Legislature to adequately fund the tool kit,” Johnson said during a conference call.
“$85 Million is not the wrong number. It’s the right number. And we’ve got to get to the number or very, very close to that.”
Latvala contended the agency should draw more private money and said the branding dollars should come from $86 million that Enterprise Florida already has in an escrow account.
Latvala also questioned why there is the urge to boost funding when the agency has only spent $9 million for incentives this year.
“I think it’s irresponsible to fund them at a level that they can’t even spend the money on,” Latvala said.
Johnson, who characterized the Senate’s $30 million proposal as “shameful” during the board-member call, said his agency has businesses lined up that could require incentive funding for those deals to be completed.
Johnson would later defend the incentive programs in a release.
“When companies grow jobs and hit their contract benchmarks, they receive incentive funding,” Johnson said.
“If they don’t meet their job or capital investment requirements, they either won’t get paid or face clawbacks. It’s as simple as that. Headquarter relocations and business expansions don’t happen overnight.”
Lawmakers are meeting in special session because they failed to agree on a budget during this spring’s regular session. The special session could last through June 20.
During the House floor session Monday, Crisafulli said issues that can’t be settled in conference committees by noon Tuesday will be “bumped” to the budget chairs in each chamber, Lee and House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.