Gov. Rick Scott's request for $85 million in new funding for business incentives was met with resistance by a skeptical House panel Wednesday, the latest indication the proposal could be all but dead on arrival when the 2017 legislative session begins in March.

  • Gov. Scott requests $85 million for business incentive
  • House panel very resistant
  • Governor's team says it will continue to press for funds

His hand already weakened by a looming budget deficit, Scott is also facing criticism for his administration's handling of past business incentive deals that have failed to deliver on promised new jobs. At Wednesday's hearing before the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee, the governor's economic team sought to defend the incentives as a key tool in its efforts to attract new companies to Florida. 

"I will tell you, please, to all of you in the House of Representatives, have this debate, but we do ask that you seriously consider allowing us to continue to have the use of incentives," said Chris Hart, the new CEO of Enterprise Florida, which administers the incentive program.

Scott's funding request comes on the heels of the legislature's rejection of his proposal for $250 million in new incentive funding in 2016. 

Despite the potential for a second defeat to further hobble the Republican governor's political standing as he eyes a U.S. Senate bid, House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes) has pledged to eliminate "corporate welfare" from this year's budget.

And Corcoran's deputies are marching in lockstep, with the chairman of the subcommittee repeatedly referring to business incentives as "corporate welfare." Rank and file House Republicans, too, are adamantly opposed to devoting taxpayer funding to a system they say is akin to picking winners and losers. 

"Even if you assume that you get back more than a dollar for a dollar of taxpayer money, is it right?" Rep. Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) asked. "I mean, is it right to take from a hardworking businesswoman and give it to her competitor to draw her competitor into the state of Florida and give them an unfair advantage by giving them a subsidy to compete at an advantage for a period of years before she gets to get back to a level playing field."

With two months remaining before the start of the legislative session, however, the governor's team intends to continue to press its case by arguing that many of the jobs created during Florida's economic recovery owe at least in part to incentive deals.

"But for the incentives, they would not have happened," said Cissy Proctor, appointed by Scott to lead the Department of Economic Opportunity.