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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 6, 201905:20 AM EST

The Cawton Report: DeSantis keeping incentives fund, for now

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Governor says he left fund untouched at the recommendation of his predecessor.
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is keeping $85 million attached to the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund in his first budget, but that may not be the case next year. 

His predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, established the fund in 2017 after reaching a deal with state lawmakers who were wary of the large taxpayer-backed financial incentive packages used to attract companies to expand or relocate to the state.

Scott’s $100 million request for public-private agency Enterprise Florida Inc. failed to gain support from the Republican-controlled Legislature and then Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran. 

The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund was created during a special session that year and is controlled by the executive branch. 

DeSantis released his $91.3 billion budget Feb. 1. 

“My view is, we’ll see if that can be put to good use,” DeSantis said during his first official trip to Jacksonville since becoming governor in January. 

He said he left the fund untouched because it was something Scott, a fellow Republican, recommended. 

“At the same time, if I don’t feel like there’s opportunities to use that in a good way then it may not be something I recommend next year,” he said. 

The fund provides money to municipalities to build infrastructure or to provide workforce training at local colleges and universities in support of economic development. Money is not awarded directly to companies.  

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Enterprise Florida recommend projects to the governor’s office, which has the authority to allocate the money.  

Florida State College at Jacksonville received $710,352 to enhance manufacturing and logistics training through the fund.

Another $6 million was awarded to Jacksonville to help build a road at Cecil Commerce Center to provide access to its “mega-site” that could boost large-scale industrial development. The city also allocated $1.5 million to the project.

Sen. Rob Bradley of Orange Park chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. He told Tallahassee reporters in January that he has concerns about how the fund money is used. 

“While we’re interested in infrastructure, investing in infrastructure, we’re going to take a close look at economic development initiatives,” he said, according to the News Service of Florida. 

DeSantis said Enterprise Florida will operate differently under his administration. 

“We’re not going back to where we’re handing out money,” DeSantis said. “There was money wasted doing that.” 

In January, the Enterprise Florida board approved his appointment of Jamal Sowell to become the agency’s CEO and president.

Sowell is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the JAXUSA Partnership first-quarter meeting Feb. 26. 

On Monday, DeSantis called the former Port Tampa Bay official a rising star. 

He said that his administration would focus on selling “all the great things we have” in Florida, rather than choosing winners and losers. 

“It’s open for everybody,” he said. “I think that Enterprise Florida is going to play a role. It’s just going to be different than it had been doing two or three years ago.”

No expansion of early voting sites for March election 

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said Monday that he does not plan to expand early voting sites for the March unitary elections. 

Early voting is March 4-17. 

Hogan received pushback from local Democrats and some members of Jacksonville City Council for not establishing early voting sites on college campuses. 

Voting sites eventually were set up at the University of North Florida and Edward Waters College.

“I can tell you out of the 20 sites, the University of North Florida was 19 and Edward Waters College was 20,” Hogan told the Meninak Club of Jacksonville.

He said his office is evaluating the performance of those sites and others and plans to conduct “a big study” after the March 19 election. 

“We do know that we do have some disparity,” he said. “We may have 20 (sites), but they may be in different positions.” 

Hogan said some early voting sites weren’t large enough or fully equipped to support the demand. 

“The Murray Hill library is very small,” he said. “They had very long lines because we only set up four voting booths and when you have 12 amendments, it takes a long time to vote.” 

Duval Democrats oppose Curry, offer no alternative

The Duval County Democratic Party released a statement Tuesday instructing members to vote for the mayoral candidate that best represents Democrat views in the absence of a party-backed contender. 

“Last week, our party membership unanimously passed a resolution opposing the re-election of Lenny Curry,” said party Chair Daniel Henry. 

“Four more years of this incumbent will have devastating impacts on transparency in government, the continuation of the Curry Crime Wave, and the sale of public assets against the public’s expressed interest like JEA,” he said in a statement.

“We encourage all Democrats to make an informed decision in the Mayor’s race and reject former statewide Republican party boss, Lenny Curry,” the statement reads. 

Duval Democrats did not field a qualified mayoral candidate during the 2019 election cycle. 

There are two more Republicans in the race — Anna Lopez Brosche and Jimmy Hill. Also running is no party affiliate candidate Omega Allen and the two official write-in candidates, Brian Griffin and Johnny Sparks. 

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