Rick Scott wants Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida to reject employee bonuses

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PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE VIA FLICKR
  • Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
Gov. Rick Scott wants to do away with bonuses for employees at the state's tourism and business-recruitment agencies, at least for now.

After fighting with the Legislature earlier this year to keep the agencies funded, Scott on Thursday rejected the bonuses “at this time.”

Scott sent a letter to members of the boards of directors at Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida outlining his opposition to the employee rewards.

“Employees are the key to success in any organization,” Scott, who serves as chairman of Enterprise Florida board, said in the letter. “But, after a long legislative session where the spending at these organizations was greatly debated, I do not believe that employee compensation should include bonuses at this time.”

Instead, Scott advised the agencies to review employee pay “to ensure that everyone is being compensated fairly relying on salaries rather than bonuses.”

Enterprise Florida President and CEO Pete Antonacci —- Scott's former general counsel who was recently hired by the agency —- also floated a proposal that would do away with the worker rewards this year. But Antonacci later agreed to revisit the plan.

Members of the Enterprise Florida executive committee questioned Antonacci's initial plan on Aug. 21. Some members of the executive committee expressed concern that withholding performance pay, when employees have done an “admirable job” in difficult times, could result in an exodus of experience.

Enterprise Florida spokesman Nathan Edwards said Thursday that Antonacci is continuing to work with members of the Finance & Compensation Committee. No decisions regarding the bonuses have been finalized, Edwards said.

Last October, Enterprise Florida handed out $448,662 in performance pay to 57 employees. A similar arrangement had been set up for the current year, before Antonacci joined the agency.

Meanwhile, Visit Florida announced last week that the tourism agency, which gave out $440,915 in bonuses to 119 employees in May, was considering ending its merit rewards.

Both agencies maintain that the bonus programs use money from private funds, not taxpayer dollars.

The possibility of scuttling bonuses came after the House this year sought to eliminate both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. The Senate and Scott ultimately blocked the House's efforts.

In the end, the Legislature slashed state money for Enterprise Florida's daily operations from $23.5 million last year to $16 million for the budget year that began July 1.

Along with the revised funding, lawmakers also imposed new rules such as increasing financial-disclosure requirements and prohibiting the use of tax dollars for performance bonuses or severance pay unless authorized by law.

In part because of the disclosure rules, 12 regional tourism organizations —- including Visit Tampa Bay, Visit Orlando and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau —- cut ties with Visit Florida.

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