Chalk it up to ‘luck’ that Gov. Rick Scott made his first big use of a new $85 million jobs program just before the House and Senate considered preliminary budgets that would fully replenish the fund.
At least that’s the opinion of Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is chairman of the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee.
Simpson said Wednesday on the Senate floor it was simply a coincidence that Scott’s announcement of $35 million in awards from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund — his first big package of spending from the fund — occurred on Tuesday. Simpson said he expects Scott will dish out the rest of the cash still on hand by the end of the year.
“The governor’s office — and I have not been through the vetting process with them — but they are thoroughly vetting these projects to get the biggest bang for the state bucks,” Simpson said after being questioned about the governor’s pace in using the money. “I think his team has done a very good job. And what he’s looking at, I believe, is how does he maximize the opportunities across regions of Florida, which would sometimes be difficult for us to do in our project list.”
Lawmakers created the fund last year after a political battle about economic-development programs. The House and Senate have each included another $85 million for the fund in their initial proposed budgets for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.
Simpson was responding Wednesday to Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat who questioned the need to reload the fund for the upcoming fiscal year when about $50 million of the original money remains available.
“I’m trying to understand, still, why we’re setting aside another $85 million when we’re in 2018 and the first $85 million you have, how much of that has actually been delivered to the people of the state?” Gibson asked. “They have a list of projects, but very few decisions and very few dollars have been released.”
Some Democrats have labeled the money a “slush fund” for the governor, and Gibson had repeatedly questioned the program.
Simpson responded to Gibson that “just by luck” Scott went to Jacksonville on Tuesday to announce the $35 million in projects.
“Most of that money has been spent now or been qualified to be spent,” Simpson said. “Some of the projects will take more than one year to execute, but those funds will be secured for those projects.”
The fund has attracted more than 225 applications seeking more than $821 million, according to numbers updated Wednesday on the Department of Economic Opportunity website.
Before Tuesday, Scott had only used the fund once, approving $201,500 on Jan. 10 to help Manatee Technical College pay for workforce training programs in manufacturing.
Among the projects announced Tuesday were $6 million for a 1.5-mile access road at Cecil Commerce Center in Jacksonville; $1.86 million for a workforce training program at Pensacola State College that includes aviation maintenance, nursing, transportation, advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity technology; and $8.245 million to expand access to the cruise and cargo terminals at Port Canaveral.
Money also went to projects in Liberty County, Suwannee County, Columbia County, the city of Alachua, Port St. Lucie and Washington County.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.