A Florida House panel approved a pair of measures that would consolidate six state trust funds dedicated to areas ranging from affordable housing to Visit Florida into a giant pot of money worth $400 million-plus, to be used by Gov. Rick Scott for “economic development incentives.”
The plan will likely be one of a slew of provisions in the coming weeks as the House and Senate meet to reconcile their budget proposals.
The Orlando Sentinel had the scoop this morning, and found that home builders and other affordable housing advocates were worried:
The House plan immediately sparked protests from the construction industry and other affordable-housing boosters who say the move would erode affordable-housing programs by forcing them to compete for funding against politically sexier economic-development initiatives such as incentives for new businesses.
“We’re big supporters of economic development. But we also know that affordable housing is a low person on the totem pole,” said Doug Buck, a lobbyist with the Florida Home Builders Association. “It’s going to have a hard time competing.”
“We’re taking the trust out of the trust funds,” said Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, whose sentiment was overruled by his colleagues on the House panel overseeing government reorganization. The panel is mulling a plan to consolidate agencies from Enterprise Florida to the Agency for Workforce Innovation to the affordable housing pieces of the erstwhile Department of Community Affairs into a mega-agency called Jobs Florida.
The panel’s vice chairman, Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, said there wasn’t much trust in the trust funds to begin with. In recent years, they’ve often been raided and transferred into the general revenue fund to help offset budget deficits.
He added that a lack of affordable housing is in some ways “a good problem to have” — it’s a sign the real estate market is booming and home prices are high. When the market recovers, affordable housing programs will compete for the governor’s favor with other economic development initiatives, such as incentives to attract new businesses to the state or encourage existing businesses to expand.