Capitol Chatter: August 10

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Aug. 10, 2012

Romney, Scott on message, just different messages
It remains an open question whether Gov. Rick Scott really understands politics. But he does understand focus and jobs.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has started running an ad in Florida — the largest of the key swing states with 29 delegates and the focus of a lot of attention by both candidates — that paints a dismal picture of the state's economy under President Obama.

The ad starts out, “Four years ago, Barack Obama was concerned about Florida's economy,” the narrator says, then goes on to say, “Under President Obama, 8.6% unemployment, record foreclosures, 600,000 more Floridians in poverty. He focused on Obamacare instead of jobs.”

The ad is dark and grainy and ominous. Bad times in Florida.

But don't try to convince Scott that is the case. Meeting with a group of reporters after a cabinet meeting, Scott said what he has been saying for 18 months -- Florida's economy is improving and adding jobs, and he is doing the right things.

“We're headed in the right direction,” Scott said. “Our unemployment rate has come down faster than any state but one. Look at the jobs that have been generated in the last 18 months. Florida is headed in the right direction.”

The RNC just announced this week that Scott will be one of the speakers at the Republican National Convention in Tampa that will officially nominate Romney for president. That news seems to shrug off the appearance that the national Republican Party may distance itself from Scott, whose approval ratings remain low.

With Scott speaking to a national and perhaps international audience, it means Florida and Tampa will get a good airing as a place to start a business or grow a business, because Scott is nothing if not a relentless advocate for job creation in Florida. It won't be a social agenda, or taxes, or foreign policy. He's on board with Romney, but he'll talk about jobs.

“Mitt Romney knows that it is the hard-working people of America who build businesses and create jobs — not the government,” Scott said in his official comments on being asked to speak. “We share that same belief here in Florida where we continue our progress in helping to create jobs by moving government out of the way of our businesses. I look forward to telling our story to the world when we gather in Tampa in just a few weeks.”

The Republican banner carrier may be saying Florida's economy is in the dumps, but Scott is bound to point out that the state has seen a sharp turnaround since he became governor, and that just conflict's with the nominees' strategy in Florida.

Lt. Gov. Carroll on mission to Trinidad
Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll led a trade delegation this week to Trinidad and Tobago, the country where she was born.

The delegation included leaders from 27 Florida companies. Carroll is the first Trinidadian-American elected to a statewide office in the nation.

The somewhat surprising fact is that Trinidad and Tobago is Florida's 23rd largest trading partner. The nearly $2 billion in annual trade between Florida and the Caribbean island nation increased 24% in 2011 over 2010.

Carroll has been embroiled in her own controversy when accusations were made against her by a former employee, and her subsequent comments offended some in the gay community.

Asked by reporters if he would make Carroll his running mate next time, Gov. Scott seemed clear. “Why wouldn't I? She's done a great job,” he said. “She's going to continue to focus on the things important to the state. And the biggest thing is jobs.”

Business incentives go online with details
The sometimes-controversial incentives that state government gives to companies to lure them into Florida or get existing companies to expand here are going to become more public and more accessible.

The Department of Economic Opportunity is creating a website at www.floridajobs.org/incentivesportal that will allow anyone to search for information about the incentive deals. However, the information will only be put on the site once the public record exemptions shielding it have expired.

The incentives raise controversy because most Florida companies cannot get that kind of help from the state and they use up precious tax dollars. Backers, however, say such incentives help create jobs for Floridians and expand the tax base, and Florida must compete with all the other states that do it.

The new portal, part of the push for transparency, will include the company name and industry, the amount of the incentive, how much has been paid back so far, number of jobs promised and number of confirmed jobs created.

The incentive deals will still remain confidential during the period when the agreements are actually struck and for some period afterwards — which is part of the negotiating process between the state and the companies. That time can be more than a year.

The Web portal for the information will be updated quarterly, and includes a disclaimer that job creation numbers may not add up because one project may receive several incentives.