Scott and new House speaker poised for battle over state’s welcome mat

Gov. Rick Scott after talking up tourism at Associated Industries of Florida.
Gov. Rick Scott after talking up tourism at Associated Industries of Florida.

With House Speaker Richard Corcoran already talking about cutting money for tourism marketing, Gov. Rick Scott began Monday working on his sales pitch for more.

Scott has been a big fan of Visit Florida, the public-private promotions agency that is drawing almost $80 million in taxpayer money, up 169 percent since 2009.

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, killed Scott’s pitch for $250 million in business incentives last year and still opposes the state offering such handouts to companies. Now, he’s set his sights on Visit Florida as another agency poised for trimming.

Scott on Monday spoke to Associated Industries of Florida, touting the state’s tourism numbers. Afterwards, Scott told reporters he was still optimistic that Visit Florida money would be maintained.

“I’m comfortable the Legislature is going to continue to be supportive of Visit Florida,” Scott said. “Let’s look at the numbers. We have increased funding for Visit Florida since I’ve been elected. And look what’s happened: tourism has skyrocketed.”

Scott said Florida was drawing 82 million tourists annually before he took office in 2011. This year, he’s hoping that figure tops 110 million visitors.

“You’ve got to market yourself,” Scott said.

 

Coming soon from Washington, Tallahassee? More charter, voucher schools

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Michigan school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as new education secretary is viewed as a clear signal he is serious about steering $20 billion to states to help children enroll in charters and private schools.

New Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, another choice proponent, also drew stark battle lines by condemning the state teachers union as “evil” last month in addressing the state House for the first time as its leader.

“Where there is competition, especially in the education arena, it’s shown that public schools actually get better,” Corcoran told The Palm Beach Post.

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With pay raises likely a victim of tightening state budget, union says “enough is enough”

Will state workers get shut out again?
Will state workers get shut out again?

With prospects of a pay raise for Florida’s 113,00 state workers looking iffy at best, the public employees union told legislative leaders Monday that “enough is enough.”

“Every year, we are told that there is enough money to spend on giveaways to big businesses and enough pork to grease the wheels for re-election back home,” the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said in a statement.

“But when it comes to helping state workers putting food on the table there is suddenly a budget crisis that prevents it,” AFSCME said, days after House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes,  laid out a stark picture for next year’s spending plan.

“Enough is enough,” the union said. “In a budget of $80 billion there is more than enough to invest in our state’s future by investing in those that will make it happen.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also acknowledges that state money is tightening. But his budget chief, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has already declared that his “highest personal priority” will be to approve some kind of state worker pay raise.

Latvala also is a supporter of including a pot of money in the state budget as business incentives, designed to lure companies to Florida. Corcoran is dead set against that, and killed the approach last year when Gov. Rick Scott wanted a $250 million incentive package.

The state’s full workforce has drawn only one pay hike in the last decade, increases in 2013 of $1,400 for workers making under $40,000 a year and $1,000 for those making more. The last straightforward, three percent pay raise came in 2006.

Even the increase three years ago, for many, only partially offset what they’d lost when in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature ordered state workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their state pension fund.