TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's top official in charge of recruiting jobs to the state is probably going to get a hefty raise.
Enterprise Florida, the organization set up to lure companies to the state, is expected to approve a new two-year contract for president and CEO Gray Swoope later this month.
The new contract would allow Swoope to make up to $375,000 in salary and bonuses — or a 25 percent increase over what he makes now.
A panel that reviews Enterprise Florida's budget — most of which comes from taxpayers — approved the new contract on Tuesday. A final vote — which could include Scott— is expected at the end of the month.
Alan Becker, a prominent South Florida attorney on the Enterprise Florida board, contended that Swoope's pay needed a boost to bring it in line with other top economic development officials. He also said Swoope, who is also known as Florida's commerce secretary, was doing a great job.
"I can say without reservation that Gray Swoope has demonstrated the greatest industry knowledge, accountability for staff and operations, and inclusion of the board and the state's economic development partners in achieving the organization's mission," Becker said.
Swoope, who was recruited by Scott away from Mississippi, is eligible for $300,000 under his current contract. His base salary of $230,000 comes from taxpayers, while he is also eligible for a bonus which comes from private contributions. Swoope has gotten a $70,000 bonus the past two years.
The new deal structures his base salary and incentive pay at $275,000 and makes Swoope eligible for an additional $100,000 bonus.
The proposed new contract — which runs until July 2015 — also guarantees a payment of $137,500 to Swoope even if he is removed from his job by the next governor. This could give Swoope some insurance in case someone defeats Scott during the 2014 election.
A coalition of conservative and left-leaning groups — including Integrity Florida, the Tea Party Network, Americans for Prosperity-Florida and Progress Florida — sharply criticized the decision to give Swoope a large raise.
"How is Enterprise Florida going to justify a commerce secretary's exorbitant pay increase to the more than 600,000 Floridians who are out of work? We're talking about a salary that would be eight times the pay of our Florida teachers," the groups said in a statement.
Since 2011 Florida's unemployment rate has fallen to 7 percent. Swoope and Scott have trumpeted several high-profile deals including one that resulted in car rental company Hertz moving its headquarters to Naples.
But the groups critical of the salary decision have faulted Enterprise Florida because the organization has been handing out bonuses based on promised jobs instead of ones actually created by economic development deals.
The decision to give Swoope a bump in pay comes several months after state legislators balked at the amount of money Scott wanted in the state budget to help Enterprise Florida lure companies. Lawmakers also passed legislation designed to bulk up the amount of oversight over business incentives used by the state.
Part of the backlash stemmed from the high-profile failure of Digital Domain. The company filed for bankruptcy last year and shuttered its facility in Florida after it accepted incentives, including $20 million from the state. Two other companies that got help have also declared bankruptcy; the state is demanding the return of money from other companies that did not fulfill promised jobs.
Officials with Enterprise Florida have pointed out that Digital Domain received assistance outside of the state's normal process and should not be used to judge the state's efforts.