Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Enterprise Florida's Wasteful Spending Needs to be Investigated

When you hear about a $2,000 dinner bill at a barbeque restaurant, you might think Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are in town. But if you’ve been following how Florida’s “economic development” agency, Enterprise Florida, has been operating under Gov. Rick Scott’s stewardship, you wouldn’t be surprised to find that it was actually just another wasteful expense paid for with your tax dollars.

As reports mount detailing the lavish travel and wasteful purchasing practices of Enterprise Florida, a rising chorus of concerned Floridians and watchdog organizations are demanding that Scott investigate his agency’s misuse of taxpayer dollars. Integrity Florida, a non-partisan watchdog group, has formally asked Scott to have the state’s chief inspector general investigate Enterprise Florida’s spending practices. Not surprisingly, this request has fallen on deaf ears.

Enterprise Florida receives more than 97 percent of its funding from taxpayers, but according to an internal audit three Enterprise Florida executives, including Secretary of Commerce Gray Swoope, were granted “unlimited” authority in February 2012 to execute contracts and make purchases on behalf of the agency.

Since carte blanche spending authority was granted to these executives, the organization’s questionable expenses have included nearly $22,000 spent on New York Yankee luxury suites and related purchases, more than $13,000 spent at the San Diego Zoo and thousands more spent at sports stadiums across the country. And that’s only what we know about.

In addition, the agency has rung up about $30,000 a month for 20 months on credit cards, but the public is in the dark as to how that money was spent — even though we paid for it, along with thousands more on airfare, luxury resorts and hotels, expensive meals, charter fishing trips and limousine services.

Government accountability organization Good Jobs First released a report in October listing Enterprise Florida among several public-private economic development partnerships that engage in “misuse of taxpayer funds, conflicts of interest, excessive executive pay, questionable subsidy awards, exaggerated job-creation claims, lack of transparency, and resistance to oversight.”

For a governor who campaigned on cleaning up wasteful government spending, Scott’s unflinching support for Enterprise Florida is baffling. In November, Scott gave Gray Swoope a 25 percent raise in pay and benefits, up to $375,000, despite the fact that the agency has created only a fraction of the jobs it has promised. After media reports detailed Enterprise Florida’s dubious spending, Scott’s office released a dismissive response.

To make matters worse, Scott and Enterprise Florida don’t even deserve the credit they’re taking for job creation. A Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times joint investigation of 342 job-creation deals since Scott took office in 2011 found that Scott’s administration has doled out $266 million in tax breaks and other incentives in an effort to lure 45,258 new jobs to the state. But according to the state’s own data, a mere 4 percent of those jobs have actually materialized.

Floridians deserve accountability and transparency from our government agencies, but in the case of Enterprise Florida under Scott’s watch, much is hidden from the public. Given what we now know about the agency’s wasteful spending and unfulfilled economic development promises, an inspector general investigation should be launched to ensure that the taxes of hard-working Florida families are actually going to economic development, not a massive slush fund for Scott’s corporate campaign contributors.

Mark Ferrulo is the executive director of Progress Florida, a statewide progressive advocacy organization.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On April 5, 2014, Bubba Twelvepack wrote:

We're supposed to be surprised by this?

As the Miami Herald reported on March 14: "The Florida Democratic Party fired back at Scott, issuing a press release that called Scott “the ultimate Medicare thief.”

The Democrats were referring to Scott’s prior tenure as CEO of Columbia/HCA about a decade ago, when the hospital company was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud."

Wikipedia provides the details:  "He resigned as Chief Executive of Columbia/HCA in 1997 amid a controversy over the company's business and Medicare billing practices; the company ultimately admitted to fourteen felonies and agreed to pay the federal government over $600 million, which was the largest fraud settlement in US history; Scott however was not implicated and no charges were raised against him personally.[3][4][5][6][7] Scott later became a venture capitalist."

The Florida Democratic Party isn't exactly my favorite source, but in this case they're only citing established facts. This is not some recent revelation. It was well known before Scott was elected governor.

And now there's a whole lot of funny business going on at Enterprise Florida under Scott's watch? I'm SHOCKED. SHOCKED, I tell you! Say it ain't so!

Looks to me like the people of Florida are getting exactly what they signed on for when they elected Scott.

Of course, what choice did they have?

Scott at least had the wit to call himself a Republican, and thus draw on the ancient mythos that he embraced the party that was about limiting government spending.

Given the choice between him and a Democrat who extolled the myriad benefits of ever higher and faster spending of taxpayer dollars the people took their best shot. And this is what we got.

But get used to it. Nobody will do anything about it so it will get worse.

Who do you think 'The 5' take their cues from?

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