Until 1996 Florida had a Department of Commerce managing economic development. Starting in 1992 it began to be privatized, under former Gov. Lawton Chiles, into a public-private partnership called Enterprise Florida. According to a 1992 profile of Enterprise Florida in Florida Trend magazine, the organization would enable select corporations to be part of “a new power elite in Florida business” that would enjoy “warm relations with the Chiles administration.”
The Florida Trend article describes how the Chiles administration solicited confidential donations of as much as $150,000 from 10 select corporate donors for Enterprise Florida and how the entity was designed to “dilute the influence of Tallahassee’s traditional business lobbyists — especially those who are hostile to the governor.” From the start of Enterprise Florida there have been concerns about its built-in conflicts of interest, exemptions from Florida’s Sunshine Laws and the public benefit of outsourcing the state’s economic development policy.
Under Gov. Rick Scott, the state’s economic development operations have been moving back into government with the reestablishment of a Secretary of Commerce, who also serves as head of Enterprise Florida, and a new Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). Enterprise Florida remains in existence through a monopoly, no-bid contract with DEO.
This year, Enterprise Florida is seeking an increase from $111 million to $278 million for economic development subsidies to give to a handful of companies that promise to keep or add Florida jobs. But shouldn’t every Florida business matter? Should Florida lawmakers allow Enterprise Florida to continue to give away our money as subsidies to a handful of corporations that may not hire any of the 749,000 jobless Floridians?
In a stunning admission from Enterprise Florida’s chief operating officer in front of a legislative committee in Tallahassee, the organization is unable to assure that the money it receives from Florida taxpayers is being used to hire Floridians.
Integrity Florida partnered with Americans for Prosperity on a research report titled “Enterprise Florida: Economic Development or Corporate Welfare?” We documented Enterprise Florida’s apparent conflicts of interest, the appearance of a pay-to-play scheme for winning favorable treatment and its repeated practice of picking winners and losers in the marketplace through target industries, potential favoritism, and selective incentive deals.
Floridians have entrusted Enterprise Florida with significant public resources to deliver high quality job creation results, yet the organization has failed to accomplish its goals. Our report found that Enterprise Florida has failed to deliver half of its original job creation goal and is not meeting its legislative requirement of 50 percent funding from the private sector. Presently, more than 85 percent of Enterprise Florida funding comes from taxpayers.
Despite writing defensive rebuttals, Enterprise Florida has yet to point to any inaccuracies in our research, including a second report we published in April 2012. We would like to see Enterprise Florida answer the questions raised in our reports. The taxpayers of Florida deserve better than the secrecy and lack of accountability exhibited by Enterprise Florida.
Dan Krassner is executive director of Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog whose mission is to promote integrity in government and expose public corruption.