By JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
PANAMA CITY, May 9, 2017……… Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that Florida won’t be in the “game for economic development” after lawmakers rejected his proposals for spending on business incentives and tourism marketing.
But he gave little indication about how he will handle an $82.4 billion state budget approved by the Legislature late Monday.
Scott, speaking after an event to mark GKN Aerospace’s decision to open a facility near the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, said his staff is just starting to review the spending plan for the 2017-18 fiscal year that was “done in secret.”
“We’re learning what is in there,” Scott said. “But here’s what we do know: We do know that they turned their back on economic development. So we’re not going to be in the game for economic development.”
Scott added that the tourism industry, which is tied to one in every six Florida jobs, could also be on shaky ground.
“If you have a job in tourism, your job is at risk,” Scott said.
“You’re going to see job loss,” he added a few moments later.
Scott noted he has the option to veto the entire budget or take out individual budget lines. But both legislative chambers approved the fiscal plan with veto-proof majorities: 98-14 in the House and 34-4 in the Senate.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters late Monday that there is enough in the budget for Scott to approve the overall package, including numerous educational components that the governor has supported.
“I think it’s our job, over the next couple of weeks, for us to make our case,” Negron said.
Scott dismissed any notion that the Legislature’s rejection of his priorities — the budget also doesn’t include his requests for money to speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee or to help residents convert from septic systems to sewers — is a personal slight.
“My priorities are simply the priorities of the people,” Scott replied.
The spending plan, if signed by Scott, includes $16 million to maintain general operations at the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida, down from $23.5 million in the current year.
The plan, for the second consecutive year, does not include money for business incentives that Scott has relied on to help lure businesses to expand or relocate in Florida.
Scott asked for $250 million a year ago for incentives, and this year his request was for $85 million to fund the Quick Action Closing Fund, which was used potentially for the last time to draw British-based GKN Aerospace to a vacant field north of Panama City.
“I hope everybody remembers that this is the day that for sure we start not being competitive,” Scott said. “It really started last July 1.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land `O Lakes, has repeatedly called business incentives “corporate welfare.”
The state can still offer tax rebates to businesses through programs such as the Qualified Target Industries, which typically requires a local government match.
Meanwhile, the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida is budgeted to receive $25 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1, far short of Scott’s request for $100 million. Lawmakers also issued a new set of Visit Florida operational guidelines about travel and marketing contracts.
Scott, who initially asked for $76 million for Visit Florida, equates the state’s increased spending on tourism marketing with Florida’s growth in annual tourists.
The state`s tourist numbers have increased from 87.3 million in 2011, when Visit Florida received $35 million from the state, to nearly 113 million last year.
Corcoran contends people are driven to travel more by their personal finances.
The tourism agency received $78 million for the current year, but has been under media and legislative scrutiny over its $11.6 million sponsorship of a cooking show hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, a $1 million contract with rapper Pitbull, and ongoing sponsorship deals with London-based Fulham Football Club and an IMSA racing team.
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