Bay County Leaders React to Proposal to Cut Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida Funding

PANAMA CITY, Fla. - Governor Rick Scott is continuing to defend two state agencies that house leaders want to put on the chopping block and he's getting some local support.
 
This comes the day after a house sub-committee voted on a plan that would strip the agencies of their funding.
 
Enterprise Florida provides financial incentives to companies that create jobs, and Visit Florida markets the state to tourists, both using taxpayer money, but Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran believes the two agencies are not transparent enough when spending taxpayer money and has vowed to do away with them.
 
"We adamantly oppose this bill."
"Seems a little short-sighted to us."
"Dangerous to the state of Florida."
"Simply stunned that it was even being considered."
 
These are the strong words from Bay County business leaders on a proposal that would kill two state agencies that promote economic growth.
 
Wednesday the House Careers & Competition subcommittee voted 10-5 to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.
 
People from all over the state attended the meeting to voice their opposition to the proposal, including a number of local leaders.
 
"Particularly Visit Florida, because we're a tourism community, but Enterprise Florida has been very helpful to us as a company," said Lisa Barnes, Eastern Shipbuilding.
 
Last year Eastern Shipbuilding won a $10 billion contract with the US Coast Guard to build new cutters.
 
She said Enterprise Florida's incentive program played a role, not only in winning the contract, but keeping it.
 
"Part of that contract is that we will have to re-compete that eventually and to be able to complete fairly is difficult," said Barnes.
 
Bay Economic Development Alliance officials work with both state agencies daily, and are worried about deals they have in-progress 
 
"We've got several projects that we are working right now that hopefully we'll be able to push to fruition and without the support of Enterprise Florida, we wouldn't even be in the game." said Becca Hardin, Bay EDA President.
 
The proposal stems from the use of funds from taxpayers used in these programs, but locals believe it's not just throwing away that money.
 
"There are those that says, 'well it's tax dollars'. Well, those tax dollars come back to support the taxpayers through creation on jobs, etc," said Carol Roberts, President/CEO, Bay County Chamber of Commerce.
 
The Bay County Tourist Development Council said Visit Florida is crucial to the state, especially for places in Northwest Florida that aren't as well known.
 
"We need assistance, you know, to get the word out about what a great area this is to do business and also what a great area to do, you know, for visitors," said Dan Rowe, President, Bay County TDC.
 
Despite local support for two agencies, State Representative Jay Trumbull voted for the bill that would cut-out their funding.
 
"There have been a couple of things that have happened in the last, you know, few weeks and months that in the houses opinion and in my opinion have not been the best use of taxpayer dollars," said Representative Jay Trumbull, (R) Florida.
 
He points out the firing of Visit Florida's Executive Director, then the agency awarding his new employer a $9 million contract.
 
"We're not trying to say that Florida is closed for business, we're not trying to say that don't come to Florida as a tourist destination, we're just saying, if we're going to use public dollars to fund these things then we believe, I believe that the taxpayer should know where their dollars are going," said Trumbull.
 
Trumbull also contends that proposals like this are meant to start the conversation and the likelihood of this legislation being the final product is very slim.
 
Also, in order for it to become law, it would also have to pass the Senate and Senate leaders said it's not even up for consideration.

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