Gov. Scott seeks to overhaul business incentives

Posted at 9:07 AM, Feb 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-25 09:07:23-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Despite opposition from some top Republicans, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday won approval from the Florida House to overhaul the state's business incentive program.

But the victory could be short-lived because the House and Senate remain far apart on whether to steer $250 million into a fund that Scott could use to lure new businesses to the state. The creation of the fund as well as Scott's call for $1 billion in tax cuts has stalled a final deal on a new state budget with time starting to run out in this year's session.

Scott praised the House for voting 79-39 for the bill to revamp the program that allows the state to offer payments to companies that promise to add jobs.

If the measure becomes law, it would make it easier for Scott to hand out subsidies because it would no longer require approval by a legislative panel. The money would also stay in the fund and not require annual approval by the Legislature.

"This legislation will also diversify our economy at a key time in our state's history to help guard against another economic downturn, and make Florida first for jobs in the country," Scott said in a statement about the bill.

Although the legislation passed, it was opposed by an unusual coalition of Democrats and conservative Republicans. The next two GOP legislators in line for House speaker — including the House budget chairman — voted against the measure.

Opponents contend the legislation (HB 1325) amounts to "corporate welfare" and will do nothing to help existing businesses in the state.

"It will make a few fat cats that much fatter," said Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat.

Rep. Jim Boyd, the Bradenton Republican sponsoring the measure, argued that the bill would help foster economic development across the state.

"We are not giving away tax dollars," Boyd said. "We are investing in our communities."

The incentives bill heads over to the Florida Senate, which is considering similar legislation. Although the House has approved the creation of a new business incentive fund, it has zero dollars in its proposed budget, while the Senate has the full $250 million sought by Scott.

Senate President Andy Gardiner acknowledged that the divide between the two chambers over business incentives and tax cuts is creating a stalemate on a new state budget.

Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn their annual session March 11, but the state has a 72-hour "cooling off" period that requires the budget to be finished three days ahead of a final vote. That means legislators have less than two weeks to work out all remaining budget differences to end the session on time.