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More Scrutiny of Taxpayer-Incentivized Private Projects Moves Forward

March 11, 2013 - 7:00pm

A bill that would allow the public to look at the books when the state grants incentives to companies that promise to bring jobs and economic development to Florida cleared the House Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday.

After a short delay getting started due to the bills missing sponsor, the committee swiftly moved to recommend HB 563 favorably. It requires the Department of Economic Opportunity to use a state-economic model to analyze the benefits of projects that receive taxpayer dollars. It also requires the development of a website where information about the projects will be publicly available.

Every year, the state of Florida grants hundreds of millions of dollars to businesses in return for promises that these businesses will create jobs by hiring more people and generating added economic activity, sponsor JosJavier Rodruez, D-Miami, has said of his bill. These are tax monies that would otherwise go to pay our teachers or to build our roads. In the name of job creation we give them instead to for-profit businesses to compete with other states and create jobs in industries like film, manufacturing, life sciences or sports and tourism. We are rightfully skeptical.

The fallout from a deal between the state and Port St. Lucie-based Digital Domain sparked a handful of bills in Tallahassee this year that require more rigorous research and review of projects incentivized with public dollars. Digital Domain, a company wooed to the state by former Gov. Charlie Crists administration, received $20 million from the state in 2009, and $50 million more in incentives from the city of Port St. Lucie, only to go bankrupt last year.

The state doled out more than $111 million in tax refunds and grants in 2012.This year, the amount is projected to be higher.

The website created under the legislation will house information about projects, including the number of new jobs created, their median wage, the state investment in the project and the amount of state tax revenue generated by it.

The bill, which has already been approved by the House Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee, also requires the DEO each year to publish a timeline of the progress of each project participating in the Quick Action Closing Fund program.

Related measures include SB 406 and HB 641, sponsored by Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, that require projects to be reviewed on a three-year schedule and streamlines the evaluation for all applicants to the incentive programs. SB 406 heads to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Wednesday.

Anne Smith writes special to Sunshine State News.

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