We are now in day two of a three-day special session called by Governor Scott, Speaker Corcoran and Senate President Negron. The special session was called after Governor Scott and Speaker Corcoran along with President Negron agreed to increase the per-student spending in the education budget and to increase funding for Visit Florida from $25 million to $76 million as well as create a new economic incentive program called the “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund”.
Speaker Corcoran had made eliminating corporate welfare programs embedded in Enterprise Florida, the public-private partnership with the state, the centerpiece of his agenda during the past session. Speaker Corcoran also put Visit Florida square in his sights, even filing a lawsuit to force Visit Florida to hand over a million-dollar contract between Visit Florida and rap artist Pitbull. Speaker Corcoran pushed House legislation to eliminate Enterprise Florida and only appropriate $25 million for Visit Florida, down from last year’s $76 million appropriation. Although, the Senate would not agree to eliminate Enterprise Florida, they did agree to defund the 21 incentive programs used by Enterprise Florida.
With the session ending on May 8, we were grateful that steps were finally taken to end corporate welfare programs that picked winners and losers and granted special privileges to certain companies. But, this special session could be the undoing of all the hard work from the past session. This new agreement made behind closed doors will push through a new economic incentive program without the needed time to debate this new program and be able to ask questions.
Just how the new economic incentive program “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund” will work is still unknown. This new program will be funded at $85 million and can be used by Governor Scott at his discretion, without legislative approval. The special session House bill HB 1A and the Senate bill SB 1A outline this new program, but is very vague as how it will work. Supposedly the $85 million cannot be used to benefit any one company, but can be used for infrastructure projects and job training to attract companies to relocate to Florida.
This new program may be a good program that just ensures Florida has the best infrastructure and trained workers that will bring companies to Florida. Our concern, is that infrastructure projects are now being funded through the legislative process, where these individual infrastructure projects are debated and vetted as a needed and appropriate use of taxpayer money. Even job training is being done now through Florida CareerSource and the Career and Professional Education Act (CAPE Act) that assist individuals in job training to attain employment in occupations that are considered "targeted industries".
Since we are funding infrastructure projects and job training now, why does the governor need this pot of money to use at his discretion and without legislative oversight?
How will the governor decide who will qualify to receive these grants?
If Governor Scott cannot use the fund for any one company, how will he know what kind of infrastructure is needed?
If Governor Scott cannot use the fund for job training for any specific company, how will he know what kind of job training will be needed?
If Governor Scott will use this fund to attract certain “qualified target industries”, isn’t that looking more like corporate welfare that will pick what industries win and which industries lose?
Even the legislators in Tallahassee right now are asking questions about this new program and nobody seems to be able to answer questions on exactly how this program will work, except for very broad parameters.
Our position is that we should have more time to ask questions, legislators should have more time to ask questions. We do not want to have another Nancy Pelosi moment, where the bill will have to be passed before we can know what is in it.
Alex Snitker is the president of the Florida Liberty Network. He was the Libertarian Party’s U.S. Senate candidate in 2010.