Political rap battles aren’t just for the Hamilton stage. A pricy Pitbull video along with some questionable incentives deals pitted Florida lawmakers against Gov. Rick Scott this year during a testy legislative session. And as a final budget deal headed for the governor’s desk, veto threats ensured the feud will likely linger in 2017. Republicans in the Florida House, led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, pushed early on to completely defund Enterprise Florida, the lead economic development agency for the state, and Visit Florida, the head tourism marketing entity. “It may be worth revisiting those programs to see if they are working the way we want,” says state Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, “and if they still serve a purpose.”

Scott certainly holds to the view they still do. The governor’s proposed budget included $85 million in incentives funding for Enterprise Florida and $100 million for Visit Florida. He spent much of the spring touring the state rallying business leaders to lobby lawmakers in support of funding both state agencies. “We need to remain the tourist capital of the world,” he tweeted on May 1, adding, “1.4 million people in this state have a job because we market our state.” The programs came under heavy scrutiny this year. Enterprise Florida saw embarrassing incentives deals blow up, including a $350 million package offered to Sanford Burnham, which relocated to the state briefly but now wants to leave. On the tourism side, Enterprise Florida resisted queries about how much was spent for rapper Pitbull to cut a promotional video for the state before the entertainer revealed he’d signed a $1-million contract for the clip.

Supporters of the agencies, though, say those matters call for agency oversight, not extermination. “What we need to be doing is making sure these programs are better,” says Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who went against leadership in his own chamber to fight for the programs. The state Senate never considered any legislation this year to defund either program. “That all came from the House,” says state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who noted the Senate budget at one point had a fully-funded Enterprise Florida. But in the last week of session, state Senate President Joe Negron reached a budget compromise with Corcoran that would fund no Enterprise Florida incentives this year and give just $25 million to Visit Florida, with heavy restrictions.Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, says the restrictions considered by the House are so severe it will be hard for local tourism organizations to partner with the state agency to promote events. She called the House position a “travesty.” Business leaders took a position similar to Gruters, suggesting the real issue with incentives funding should be how dollars get awarded, not whether deals ever get offered. “We want to bring businesses that truly diversify the economy,” says Mary Dougherty-Slapp, Gulf Coast Builders Exchange executive director. Conservative activists in the region, however, applauded lawmakers for heavily scaling back expensive programs that primarily benefit a few target industries like hospitality and manufacturing. “We don’t need to spend a lot of money advertising sunshine,” says Steve Vernon, president of the Lakewood Ranch Republican Club.

Lawmakers wrapped up the session in early May, but fully expect to return to Tallahassee to finish unfinished business. Whether that includes Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida remains to be seen, and likely depends on the governor’s next step. Scott issued a statement near the end of session that “lawmakers still have time to do the right thing,” as speculation rose about whether he’d be willing to veto the entire budget and call lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a new budget session. As he awaited the budget reaching his own desk, he openly suggested that a full budget veto remained a possibility.

At a legislative wrap-up hosted by three Sarasota business organizations—the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County and Manatee Sarasota Building Industry Association—lawmakers came home with individual achievements on which to boast. 

State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, spoke proudly of a bill allowing law enforcement to better fight shipment of fentanyl to combat a local heroin outbreak, while state Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, successfully ushered legislation to raise the fines for shark finning in Florida waters. Gonzalez led efforts to expand the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s ability to combat terrorism after a year in which Florida suffered attacks at a nightclub in Orlando and an airport in Fort Lauderdale, and Steube passed a law aimed at curbing frivolous public records suits and another allowing police to review body camera footage before completing official reports.

But the fight with the governor over Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida loomed. Lawmakers doubt the governor would veto the whole budget. Steube notes that the budget had enough lawmakers support it that even if the governor took such a drastic action, the House and Senate could return for a special session, override the veto and go home. “There might be another analysis out there, but I think if he [Scott] did that he would lose the ability to use a line item veto,” Steube says.

And Scott has wielded that line item power before. State Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton, D-St. Petersburg, considers it far more likely Scott will use his veto pen to precisely wound representatives who stood with Corcoran against Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. The only Democrat representing the two-county area, Newton supported Scott’s efforts to fully fund the state agencies, and arrived back on the Gulf Coast as one of the only allies for the Republican governor representing the region. He characterized Corcoran’s demand to completely defund incentives as foolish and disproportionate. “You have to have checks and balance and there was some abuse,” Newton acknowledges, “but you need to be able to use a scalpel to cut some of that abuse out, not a chainsaw.”

A former St. Petersburg City Councilman, he says urban areas rely on state tax incentives to attract business to the region. From a political point of view, Newton suggests, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida should work to make sure funding gets spent on efforts in all 67 counties, not just a few target regions.

Gonzalez holds that the high-paid executives working at the agencies in the past showed a lack of judgment, disadvantaging not just low-population areas but small business as a whole by directing incentives and marketing campaigns to where it was needed least. “Money was administered in a way that benefited large corporations at the expense of the small, intrepid entrepreneur,” Gonzalez says. “We need projects that benefit all of Florida.”

Miller says even if the governor demands the Legislature revisit the budget related to Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, nothing will change on the part of House leadership. “Speakers can be headstrong in terms of ideology and principles,” she says. While Miller represents a tourism-heavy district, she says slashing Visit Florida funding won’t hurt this region. “People need to be educated on going to Pasco County,” she says. “They don’t need to be educated on Siesta Key.” And the state should have enough to do what it needs to market Florida, says Miller, who notes that Visit Florida as recently as 2009 had a budget of $25 million, and suggested spending ballooned to unreasonable levels in recent years.

The fear for lawmakers now exists in less controversial but still expensive lines of the budget. Will $3 million set aside for improvements to River Road, an evacuation route in South Sarasota County, survive a veto threat? Will funding for an upcoming Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital center on the Gulf Coast suddenly come under risk? Boyd made a direct appeal to business leaders to contact the governor’s office and ask him not to slash local spending to punish individual lawmakers. “I’m just one constituent here,” Boyd told business leaders gathered at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota in May. “This is important to everyone in the room.” Boyd, who chaired the House Ways and Means committee this year, says while Corcoran initially pushed to eliminate Enterprise Florida, the agency got $16 million—its full operating budget without incentives. And he notes that at one point, the House offered a budget deal with as much as $75 million for Visit Florida to the governor’s mansion, but Scott said that wasn’t enough. 

A day before local lawmakers gathered to discuss the session outcome, Scott’s office released tourism numbers that showed record levels of tourists continued to stream into the state. “Florida set another record by welcoming 31.1 million visitors during the first quarter of 2017,” he said in a statement. “This historic number would not be possible without our investments in Visit Florida over the past few years. It’s disappointing that Florida’s Legislature would jeopardize growth of our tourism industry and jobs by cutting funding.” As of mid-May, the budget approved by the Legislature had yet to make it to the governor’s desk, and he will have weeks to review it and decide what to sign into law. Boyd stressed that even if the agencies today are unhappy with funding for this fiscal year, Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida still have the funding to operate, and everything can be revisited next year. As lawmakers await the budget message from the governor, it may be they need to find the same solace as some projects get put on the backburner for reconsideration in 2018.