Friday, March 10, 2017

Despite an angry Rick Scott, the House is about to kill Enterprise Florida

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO VIA FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
  • Photo via Florida House of Representatives
Proposals to kill the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida and revamp tourism-marketer Visit Florida are poised to pass the House on Friday.

Facing fierce opposition from Gov. Rick Scott, the House moved forward Thursday with a proposal (HB 7005) that would abolish Enterprise Florida and a number of other economic development programs, such as the Office of Film & Entertainment and the Quick Action Closing Fund Program,

The House also positioned for a vote Friday a measure (HB 9) that would overhaul the structure and contract-reporting requirements of Visit Florida.

Scott and allies, including a few key members of the Senate, have called the proposals "job killing legislation."

House leaders have publicly feuded with Scott over the proposals, repeatedly labeling business incentives as "corporate welfare."

Enterprise Florida also suffered a blow Monday when President and CEO Chris Hart, who joined the agency in November, abruptly resigned, claiming in a letter differences of opinion with Scott on the future of the agency.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, on Wednesday asked House Democrats to join Republicans in backing the two bills, but members of the minority party spent nearly two hours questioning the proposals Thursday.

Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican who is sponsoring both bills, said the effort regarding Visit Florida is intended to "rein in" the agency, which has been criticized by lawmakers for a controversial $1 million contract with Miami hip-hop artist Armando Christian Perez, better known as Pitbull, and ongoing sponsorship deals with London-based Fulham Football Club and an IMSA racing team.

"We won't have any more Pitbull contracts that don't get legislative oversight," Renner said. "When it's convenient for them to be private they are private. When it's convenient for them to be public, they are public. And we have to end that."

In his proposed 2017-2018 budget, Scott has requested $85 million for business incentives through Enterprise Florida and $76 million for tourism marketing. Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida are considered public-private agencies, requiring private money to match state funding.

A year ago, lawmakers approved $78 million for Visit Florida, but rejected Scott's requested $250 million for economic incentives.

The proposal to eliminate Enterprise Florida would transfer existing deals and some programs into to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

For Visit Florida, the proposed changes would require the agency to post all contracts online; freeze agency employees' benefits at current levels and prohibit bonuses; remove public-records exemptions from marketing and research projects; and require approval from the governor for all out-of-state and international travel.

The changes also would require the Senate to confirm the governor's appointment of the agency's president and allow the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, House speaker or Senate president to reject contracts worth more than $750,000.

Democrats unsuccessfully sought to remove the film office from the House's proposed changes. Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, characterized some of the changes as "a little draconian."

The Visit Florida proposal would leave the question of the agency's funding to budget negotiations between the House and Senate later in the 60-day session, which began Tuesday.

Scott has credited increased funding for Visit Florida with growth in tourism in Florida. Visit Florida reported more than 112.8 million visitors in 2016, up from 87.3 million in 2011, when Visit Florida received $35 million from the state.

House leaders have attributed the growth to an improvement in the economy and disposable income.

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