GARY FINEOUT, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers are giving Gov. Rick Scott more say over money used to bring jobs to the Sunshine State.

Scott, who campaigned on creating 700,000 jobs over seven years, has asked legislators the last two years for more control over the millions in the state budget that go to companies that agree to either expand or relocate to Florida.

House and Senate budget chiefs meeting on Saturday agreed to do that.

They reached a deal that will hand over control to Scott for more than $60 million in economic development incentives. Scott will be able to hand out the money without having to go through a legislative panel first.

“I think he has made good arguments that in his effort to sell our state and bring quality employers in here he needed to be able to make commitments faster,” said Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales and the Senate budget chief.

Racing against a looming deadline to finish their work on time budget negotiators on Saturday also reached a deal on prison spending.

Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and Rep. Denise Grimsley said that the final deal will guarantee that a Panhandle prison will remain open.

Jefferson Correctional Institution was one of several prisons targeted for closing earlier this year by the Scott administration. County residents, however, pleaded with legislators to keep the open the prison since it was the main employer in the county.

But Alexander said the final budget deal includes savings realized by closing a faith-based women’s prison in Hillsborough County. It had appeared earlier this week that the prison would be spared.

Tampa Bay legislators had been working to keep the prison open for the last two years after it first showed up on a prison consolidation plan shortly after Scott first took office. Department officials had targeted the prison because they said it was costly to keep open.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, said on Saturday she was disappointed with the decision to shutter the prison but she said was not surprised.

“I think the governor and the Department of Corrections really wanted to shut it down,” Storms said.

Legislators have until Tuesday to finalize budget negotiations in order to finish the session on time. The final budget must sit on the desks of lawmakers for 72 hours before a final vote can be taken. The session is due to end on March 9.

Many of the biggest budget decisions are still unresolved.

Those include how to parcel out $300 million in cuts to the state’s 11 public universities and whether to create a 12th university in Lakeland. Alexander has been pushing for the creation of stand-alone polytechnic university.

Budget negotiators also need to resolve major health care spending issues, including how much to cut payments to hospitals and whether to slash money now going to mental health and substance abuse programs.

Scott in his own budget recommendations had asked for $230 million that could be used for economic development incentives, which include tax rebates or other types of financial rewards to companies.

The final budget deal calls for more than $86 million worth of incentives, but $25 million would still require some level of approval by a legislative budget panel that can meet when lawmakers are not in session.

“I expect him to use it to bring jobs to Florida,” said Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee and chairman of the House panel that oversees economic development spending. “Certainly that has been his focus.”


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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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