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Florida Gov. Rick Scott seeks more funds for Enterprise Florida incentives

Florida Gov. Rick Scott jokes with manager Noble Thomas before delivering remarks on jobs growth during a visit to Bright Future Electric, an electrical contractor business with offices in Florida and Alabama, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Ocoee, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott jokes with manager Noble Thomas before delivering remarks on jobs growth during a visit to Bright Future Electric, an electrical contractor business with offices in Florida and Alabama, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Ocoee, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP) AP

TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott announced plans Thursday for the 2016 legislative session with hopes to "allow Florida to compete with other states, and countries, for major job creation projects."

Altering processes for the state's Quick Action Closing Fund is the main goal of the reforms. The Quick Action Closing Fund is "a discretionary grant incentive that can be accessed by Florida's Governor, after consultation with the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives to respond to unique requirements of wealth-creating projects," according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Scott outlined four reforms he hopes to see during an Enterprise Florida board meeting. The four reforms, according to the release, are:

Create a $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund, an idea that could face resistance from some of his fellow Republicans in the Senate, although Scott's plan includes more oversight of spending by legislative leaders.

Speaking at an Enterprise Florida board meeting in Orlando, Scott directly took on his critics in the Capitol, saying "it's ridiculous" that the largest fund used to close deals with employers is "broken and nearly bankrupt" and will run out of money in a few weeks. He again called on Enterprise Florida board members, many of them well-connected business leaders, to lobby lawmakers for the money and to "make it personal."

"These reforms are not going to happen because I give a speech. They're not," Scott said in a morning speech at the Hyatt at Orlando International Airport.

He picked an opportune time to pounce on the Legislature, as lawmakers are wallowing in dysfunction over the need to remap all 40 Senate districts to comply with constitutional anti-gerrymandering requirements.

Make the Florida Enterprise Fund a new trust fund where incentive fund dollars will remain untouched in the state treasury until companies under job creation contracts meet job requirements. This step should allow the state's investment to accrue more interest than the current escrow account, Scott said.

Require any deal needing more than $1 million be approved by the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate and Scott while eliminating the need to schedule special committee meetings.

Reform the return on investment requirements of the funding dedicated to competitive jobs projects by requiring a 10 percent annualized return on top of the original amount invested in a company, while eliminating the use of special waivers.

Scott is concerned Enterprise Florida is underfunded and unable to compete with Florida's strongest competitors in job addition and company relocation.

"It's a big dollar ask," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, one of Enterprise Florida's strongest critics in the Legislature. "That could be problematic."

Detert supports the substance of the governor's plan, even if $250 million is a high sticker price. She said oversight from the Legislature is good, and she applauded the plan to move economic incentive money into an account where it can earn interest.

But some feel job relocation between states is more harmful than helpful.

Greg LeRoy is executive director at Good Jobs First, an organization focused on tracking subsidies and promoting accountability in economic development. LeRoy said he sees "many problems" with Scott's plan.

"These so-called deal closing funds; we call them photo opportunity funds and they are very problematic," LeRoy said in an email. "They're another reflection of the politicization of economic development."

In a 2013 Good Jobs First report, the organization explains why they believe interstate job transfer is wasteful:

"(States) have turned to what we call here 'interstate job fraud,'" the report reads. "That is, they actively try to lure existing jobs from other states, re-label them 'new' (or perhaps technically 'new to the state') and shower footloose companies with eight- and nine-figure subsidy packages."

Stephen Lawson, communications director for Enterprise Florida, said the organization is sure Scott's plan will return the taxpayers' investment.

"According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, since 2013, economic development projects are projected to return a 10 to 1 investment on taxpayer dollars," Lawson said in an email. "Enterprise Florida is committed to continuing to provide that high level of return on investment."

-- Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporters Steve Bousquet and Michael Auslen contributed to this report.

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter@jayohday.

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