May 13, 2011 The Orlando Sentinel
From the start of his administration, Gov. Rick Scott has been clear about how he planned to keep his campaign pledge to create 700,000 jobs in seven years: a direct line of accountability to the governor’s office.
To that end, Scott directed state lawmakers to blow up Florida’s diffuse constellation of jobs agencies and create a new Department of Commerce, whose director would work two doors down the hall from the governor spearheading Florida’s business recruitment efforts.
“When you don’t have one person looking over everything, it makes it more difficult to get things done,” Scott said in January at his first meeting with the state’s economic-development arm, Enterprise Florida. “I’ll have a hard time holding somebody accountable for this if I don’t have a person responsible for it.” But the product Republican lawmakers delivered last week was a mixed-bag – a reflection of how Scott’s private-sector vision of government doesn’t always square with the real thing.
There won’t be one person in charge, as Scott had wanted. There won’t be as much money to work with – $109.8 million in economic incentives, as opposed to the $300 million Scott sought.
And lawmakers want to see results before they commit future dollars to luring jobs to the state.
“Things don’t always go in a straight line where you want them to go, but we made a lot of progress,” the governor told the Enterprise Florida board of directors in a Thursday conference call. “We didn’t get exactly what we wanted, but what we did get is a very good start.”
One fissure during the 60-day session was Scott’s insistence that his economic-development chief be compensated like a corporate executive, with bonuses financed by the private sector. The Senate balked at that idea. Lawmakers were also leery of giving Scott a no-strings-attached pot of $300 million to dole out to companies.
Instead, the Legislature placed specific requirements that many of the economic development dollars be devoted to specific places: the Florida Panhandle got $16 million; the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in Orlando got $2 million; and $10 million would have to go to the “Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research,” to spin-off state university research.
At the same time, they cut research dollars in other places, re-directing $25 million, for instance, from the medical research trust fund that goes to university-based centers to reducing an ongoing deficit at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
“I could either fund research … or take care of people that no one else on this planet is going to take care of,” said House health-care budget chief Matt Hudson, R-Naples.
Including the budgets for all the state’s economic-development agencies, the Legislature committed $207.3 million to job-creation – down from $220 million this year, and the high of $458 million in 2007 when lawmakers were pouring cash into seven bio-tech projects like Sanford-Burnham, in the hope of creating life-science job clusters.
Lawmakers did give Scott greater freedom to hand out up to $5 million per company without getting legislative approval first. In fact, the government-reorganization also requires Scott’s office to make a decision on whether to award the dollars to a company within 10 days of receiving an application from a business.
But they also set a September 1 deadline for the governor to produce a “business plan” for how he would measure success. The plan would have to include benchmarks for business recruitment, business expansion, and the number of jobs created or retained.
“I think a lot of people were hesitant and didn’t know what kind of governor he was going to be – even in his own party,” said Rep. Scott Randolph, an Orlando Democrat who has blasted Republicans’ jobs agenda this spring.
Next year, lawmakers could award Scott $125 million for job-recruitment — diverted from affordable housing and road-building trust funds – if they like the results so far.
“We’ll have the opportunity for a year to see how this governor performs in attracting and retaining jobs,” said Senate Transportation and Economic Development budget chief Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who carried the reorganization effort.
The result, Gaetz and other lawmakers say, is a level of accountability that’s been missing in previous years.
The new “Department of Economic Opportunity” that lawmakers created on the last day of session will absorb the assorted duties of three separate agencies, responsible for everything from affordable housing and growth management to community development programs, and unemployment compensation.
It won’t be helmed by Scott’s jobs guru.
Gray Swoope, plucked from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s staff to serve as Florida’s job-recruiter-in-chief, will stay at Enterprise Florida, the public-private organization that escaped the reorganization unscathed. He earns a base salary of $230,000 and is eligible for bonuses of up to $70,000.
His title will change to “Secretary of Commerce,” although lawmakers did not create a Commerce Department. “We want Mr. Swoope out there bringing business to Florida instead of managing a big bureaucracy,” said House economic development budget chairman Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee.
But the pressure-point was private-sector compensation. Scott had wanted an economic-development coordinator who could accept performance bonuses and incentives provided by the private-sector companies that help finance Enterprise Florida now.
Senators balked at the idea of allowing the person responsible for doling out taxpayer cash to companies to ostensibly be able to turn around and accept bonuses from them.
“There was both a substantive and optical problem,” said Gaetz.
“If someone is heading an agency, and that agency has regulatory authority as well as the authority to pick and choose business entities to be given tax breaks, I can’t see how that agency head could be compensated by the people he regulates and gives business incentives to.”
In the end, Scott’s office proposed the current compromise – but it leaves the governor with a network of economic development agencies that aren’t all that different from where they started. Appointed members of Enterprise Florida will also serve on Space Florida’s board. VISIT Florida would answer now to Enterprise Florida instead of the governor’s office of tourism, trade and economic development, which will be dissolved.
But the unnamed executive director at the new department – instead of Swoope at Enterprise Florida – will technically have control over most of the economic incentives.
Asked who would answer to whom in the new organizational structure, Gaetz said, “You’re going to have to ask the governor that question.”
Swoope said Thursday that the changes were “a step in the right direction,” and businesses would recognize “that we’re all one team.”
That said, the governor had put together a working group that started Thursday to comb through the final legislation to see “how it works, what needs to be changed, and getting to the nuts and bolts of those changes.”