Watchdog group critical of Fla. governor's taxpayer-funded overseas trips



TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Since 2011, Gov. Rick Scott has led nine overseas trade missions designed to bring jobs and new economic opportunities to Florida.

This summer, the governor led a delegation of 100 community, business, and political representatives to France for the Paris Air Show. The cost to taxpayers was $332,659.

Travel expenses for Scott and his wife were covered through private companies. However, Orlando-based Enterprise Florida, the state's taxpayer-funded marketing and business incentive arm, reported costs for the trip at almost $600,000.

In its financial disclosure, issued three months after the conclusion of the trip, Enterprise Florida states it recouped $262,000 in expenses. Enterprise Florida reported expected revenue of $172 million from the trip but it has not produced any documentation to verify that figure.

Dr. Sean Snaith, the director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness and a nationally recognized economist in the field of business and economic forecasting, reviewed the disclosure from Enterprise Florida.

Snaith said many of the claims made by the group are simply expectations of possible business.

"Without the details, it's hard to know how those figures were calculated," said Snaith. "It is possible that new partnership and investment will bring money and jobs into the area will have an impact and a multiplied impact on the region's economy."

The Paris Airshow is considered one of the leading aerospace and aviation trade shows in the world, with more than 350,000 visitors. At this year's airshow, Embraer aircraft holding, a Brazilian aerospace company with its U.S. headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, and Embry Riddle University, both announced major deals including partnerships and aircraft sales.

"I think a lot of these trade shows are like that. They sometimes bear fruit, they sometimes don't," said Snaith. "There is often a lag, and so it is hard to get the cause and effect and really link the action with a reaction that could occur a year or two years further from then."

Dan Krassner is the executive director of the independent government watchdog group Integrity Florida.

"Enterprise Florida give companies subsidies, sometimes cash up front, sometimes cash after they bring jobs, but it's all based on IOU's and promises, " said Krassner.

Integrity Florida has been critical of the partnerships forged by Enterprise Florida, pointing out that while Enterprise Florida bills itself as public/private partnership, more than 80 percent of Enterprise Florida's budget comes from Florida taxpayers, including the Paris trip.