By JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
Gov. Rick Scott on Monday morning hadn’t formally received a bill, negotiated during the final hours of a special legislative session, that will give him $85 million to try to boost economic development.
But he hasn’t wasted any time making clear he will use the “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund” as he pitches businesses to move to Florida or expand in the Sunshine State.
Scott, starting a business-recruitment trip in Connecticut on Monday, was emphatic last week that the new fund — set up within his Department of Economic Opportunity — will help the state land more jobs.
“I’m going to use the tools that we have to call on companies,” Scott said Wednesday when asked at a veterans’ awards ceremony in Tallahassee about the fund, which was crafted as part of a deal to end the special session this month. “I believe that the way we’ve revised our tool kit, it’s going to work.”
NBC Connecticut reported that Scott was expected to meet Monday with officials from TransAct Technologies, a manufacturer of printers for banks and casinos, but was rebuffed by executives at New Britain-based Stanley Black & Decker.
The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund was approved as part of a deal (HB 1A) that increased funding for the state’s tourism-marketing arm Visit Florida and put up $50 million to encourage the federal government to speed completion of repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.
Lawmakers approved the $85 million fund, which is supposed to be used for infrastructure and job training, instead of providing economic-incentive money to the public-private agency Enterprise Florida. Scott had long sought the incentive money but declared victory after the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund was approved.
As of Monday morning, the Legislature had not formally sent the bill to Scott for his signature.
Some Democrats, however, have characterized the new fund as a “slush fund.” Senate leaders tried unsuccessfully to attach a number of provisions they said would have provided more oversight of the money, from higher performance conditions on the release of funds to expanding the number of agencies that would have a say in recommending projects.
Scott took a post-special session “victory” tour last week and called the fund a new way of doing business, “which I think is going to work out really well for the state.”
On Friday, the fund was prominently featured in separate news releases announcing Florida’s unemployment numbers and the trip to Connecticut.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office, in a statement, sought to dismiss Scott’s trip by pointing to the Nutmeg State’s quality of life and educated workforce.
“The truth is, no amount of money or effort will make up for the fact that Gov. Scott is leading his state in the wrong direction,” a release from Malloy’s office said. “We are happy to host Mr. Scott to show him a better way to serve his state, but if he’s expecting anyone in Connecticut to buy what he’s selling, he’s better off saving his taxpayers the cost of the trip and staying home.”
Scott undertook a similar trip to Connecticut two years ago, with General Electric among the prized targets. GE eventually moved to Boston which was able to offer $145 million in tax breaks and state grants.
Florida Democrats have been blunt in their criticism of the new job fund, which they contend was part of a “self-serving” deal made in the “backroom” by Scott and Republican legislative leaders.
“It’s time to stop wasting tax dollars on handouts to Scott’s political allies instead of investments in quality public schools,” said Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.
Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, said during a floor debate during the special session that workforce-training money is what got him to support the measure, but he questioned an $85 million fund that the governor would have at his “discretion” to spend.
“It’s our job to allocate money,” Shaw said. “The way it is now is just a little too open.”
In 2016 and this year, Scott was unable to get state legislators to approve his requests to continue funding economic incentives through Enterprise Florida.
That cut off money Scott had offered in prior years to attract, maintain or help expand companies such as Hertz, United Technologies and Harris Corp.
Many lawmakers, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, criticized the incentives as “corporate welfare.”
But with the new fund in place, Corcoran cozied up with Scott at stops on the special session “victory” tour.
Corcoran, at the Fort Myers stop, called the fund “a brand new model for the rest of the nation on how to do funding for bringing business and keeping businesses here with infrastructure and education that benefits everybody, not just the few.”