Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ global trade mission this week is being funded by an organization that Republicans have been trying to kill, raising questions about whether at least some of the taxpayer money will be used for his ambitious trip around from the world to Japan. South Korea, Israel and the United Kingdom.
Launched in 1996, Enterprise Florida is a public-private state agency that aims to attract businesses to the state and promote them for economic development. It has been controversial for years, becoming a sticking point between Florida House Republicans and former Gov. Rick Scott, who saw it as an effective way to create jobs. Back then, Enterprise Florida survived, but with less funding. Private donations have typically defrayed the cost of previous trips.
DeSantis continues to travel extensively outside of Florida ahead of a potential 2024 presidential run, and has drawn some criticism, including within the Republican Party, for his foreign policy statements.
Donald Trump raised the issue of funding in a post on his Truth Social platform Monday, saying DeSantis would use taxpayer money for his «Round the World emergency tour…to up his game and see if he can remove the stain of his failed campaign. .»
“Maybe he can, and maybe he can’t, who really knows, but he’ll have plenty of time to think as he sits alone, on his taxpayer-funded plane, and thinks: WHY? Trump added of his likely competition in the 2024 presidential race.
In 2019, DeSantis traveled to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a delegation of nearly 100 people as part of a trade mission hosted by Enterprise Florida.
«Like the last one, [this trip] it is not paid at taxpayer expense,” Bryan Griffin, spokesman for the governor, told NBC News.
But taxpayers apparently paid at least part of the cost of the earlier trip, according to the News Service of Florida, citing documents released by the state’s economic development agency. He six-day trip totaled $442,504and private donors footed more than two-thirds of the bill, the documents show, but Florida taxpayers paid about $131,000, the news outlet reported.
That covered lodging, airfare and other travel costs for various state officials, as well as security provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The Florida News Service also reported that a significant source of funding came from 12 private donors, including legal and lobbying firms, according to the same documents.
This time, too, private donors will pay for at least part of the trip through Enterprise Florida, which has not disclosed where exactly the money will come from.
A spokesperson for Enterprise Florida declined to comment on the trade mission, instead referring questions to the governor’s office.
For years, some Republican lawmakers have protested against Enterprise Florida, arguing that the agency gives tax breaks to big companies that don’t really need them and would have come to Florida anyway. Critics of the agency have said it unfairly picks winners and losers, and that money set aside for it could be better spent elsewhere.
Florida House Republican Speaker Paul Renner reiterated his desire to kill Enterprise Florida in an interview last week.
“I don’t think taxpayer money should be used to fund corporate welfare,” he said. “We don’t need to spend taxpayer dollars that could [instead] be spent on K-12 or higher education.”
A bill introduced last month, HB 5, proposed transferring the funds from Enterprise Florida to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity. Renner has said that $13 million in funding this year for Enterprise Florida could be better used in other areas.
On Friday, the House Appropriations Committee voted 19-7 to approve the bill, which would also change the name of the Department of Economic Opportunity to the Department of Commerce. The bill would put the commerce secretary in charge of hiring companies.
Renner said he opposes Enterprise Florida for tax breaks it offers only some corporations, for example, using taxpayer money to attract an Amazon headquarters in 2017. He argues that the lack of a state income tax in Florida and other business-friendly policies should be an incentive. enough to attract businesses.
For some of DeSantis’s critics, the timing of the trip is suspect.
“It doesn’t fit,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the state House Democratic leader, adding that it was her “strong assumption” that at least some of the taxpayer money would be used given the number of government officials making the trip. in addition to the governor’s security detail. Driskell questions why Republicans don’t oppose DeSantis’ trip by using an agency they want to dismantle.
«It’s very hypocritical,» he said. “They are happy to change the rules when it suits them.”
In his interview, Renner defended DeSantis’ busy travel schedule in the middle of the legislative session.
“This is a governor who gets things done,” Renner said. “And the fact that he can get things done and still travel out of state, I’m sure it’s frustrating for people, but it doesn’t change the fact that this governor is totally committed to the issues and issues of the people of Florida. . .”