TALLAHASSEE -- What do violent video games, gory movies and high-powered assault weapons have in common?
They have all been blamed for tragic mass shootings, including last month’s at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — and are all subsidized by Florida taxpayers.
With Florida’s tax code more business-friendly in recent years, economic incentives and tax breaks have flowed to companies and industries currently under fire for their roles in America’s gun violence.
Meanwhile, the state has cut funding for mental healthcare and school safety programs, two areas at the forefront of the national gun-control debate.
While it has become more difficult and expensive to access mental healthcare in Florida, it is getting easier and cheaper to obtain high-powered weapons. Last year, the Legislature cut the cost of obtaining a weapons license by $5, and a string of gun-friendly measures has boosted the number of concealed firearms carriers past one million.
As the White House, Congress and states across the country look at new measures for curbing gun violence, Florida’s tax code and budgeting measures could be having the opposite effect.
“I think the state of Florida has a role to play in preventing gun violence and in gun regulation,” said Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, who has pushed for gun control but acknowledged that the companies receiving tax breaks are all helping to create jobs in the state. “When you get to the issue of assault weapons, you get to a thornier issue.”
Nationally, Florida ranks 49th in mental health funding, and first in gun ownership. The state has been a trailblazer in providing lucrative tax incentives to a smorgasbord of companies in return for promises to create jobs.
In 2012, a tough budget year when the Legislature cut funding for school safety by $1.8 million and Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $5.7 million for mental health programs, lawmakers were able to find more than $10 million for economic incentives that went to violent film productions, bloody video games and gun manufacturers.
In South Florida, that meant millions of fewer dollars for mentally ill prisoners, while movie-maker Michael Bay received $4.2 million in tax breaks to produce Pain & Gain, an action film about South Beach bodybuilders who become violent criminals.
Tax breaks for
The Legislature and powerful business groups are pushing to boost the state’s manufacturing industry, a sector that includes makers of military-style weapons.
At least three gun makers have been on the receiving end of lucrative tax break deals aimed at spurring job creation. Colt Manufacturing Co. was approved for a $1.6 million deal in December 2011, after it opted to open a new regional headquarters in Osceola County, bringing 63 jobs. Scott hailed the tax credit program as a “clear message that Florida is both open for business and a defender of our right to bear arms.”
More tax breaks for gun makers would soon follow.
Kel Tec CNC, a Cocoa Beach company that manufactured the handgun used in the controversial Trayvon Martin shooting last year, received nearly $15,000 in taxpayer cash to train its employees. The company, which also makes the types of high-powered assault weapons used in recent mass shootings, did not have to create any new jobs in return for the money. Repeated efforts to reach company officials were unsuccessful.