Gov. Rick Scott wants more of our tax dollars to go to out-of-state corporations to lure them to Florida.
Scott insists he needs $85 million or more to create jobs. Apparently the $43 million the Legislature gave him for incentives and the $10 million for a new marketing program is chicken feed and not enough to get the job done.
Scott has been vocal about his desire for more tax dollars and plans to enlist the collective power and influence of the Enterprise Florida board to bully the Legislature into giving him and his appointees more money to make deals.
This is how it works. Enterprise Florida is a public/private partnership that took the place of the former Department of Commerce. Formed as a 501(c)3, Enterprise Florida has a board of directors and acts as the primary economic development organization for the state.
The board has 64 voting members — many of whom are lobbyists and corporate heads. Corporate sponsors who want to serve on the prestigious board contribute $50,000 to support Enterprise Florida’s activities. The board uses these private funds to reward staff through its performance incentive program.
These bonuses are intended to recruit and retain the best and brightest but also serve to make staff and the CEO highly attuned to the wishes of the board.
In addition to a few elected officials, including the governor, the Cabinet and a couple of legislators, who serve on the board, major Florida corporations are represented such as healthcare giants Florida Blue and Baptist Health and utility powerhouses Gulf Power, TECO, Duke and FPL.
Financial institutions are well represented, including JPMorgan, Regions Bank, TD Bank, SunTrust, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Fifth Third Bank.
Other major players are Disney, AT&T, Bright House, Publix, Walgreens, Darden, Harris Corp., Lockheed Martin, St. Joe Co. and Barron Collier Cos.
At a recent Enterprise Florida board meeting, Gov. Scott asked these deep-pocketed, well-connected titans to put pressure on the Legislature to loosen the purse strings and give them tens of millions more of our tax dollars.
These are the same individuals and companies that fund the political parties, the political committees and legislators’ political campaigns. Legislators just might be receptive to their request.
But these same legislators extol the benefits of free markets and competition. They decry government involvement and picking the winners and losers. They adamantly oppose the redistribution of wealth. And yet they’re willing to take from struggling taxpayers to give to wealthy corporations.
So while we’re being told there’s not enough money to adequately fund our prison and probation systems — basic security functions of government — more of our tax dollars are going to successful corporations to make our state more attractive to them.
And when we’re told that the dollars aren’t there to implement Amendment 1 to protect our natural resources and improve our quality of life, the governor wants to reduce our revenue by giving tax breaks to corporations.
With fewer expenses and more cash incentives, these corporations could afford to pay their employees more and perhaps hire away trained employees from Florida businesses that they are competing with.
When government steps into the free market and helps one company, it is usually to the detriment of another.
Of course we get the positive spin on these job-creating deals. First comes the announcement and sometimes we make it to a ground-breaking or a ribbon-cutting.
However, lost in all the bragging and publicity is the final result. Did the jobs materialize? Did the investment in infrastructure occur? Is the company still in business? Did they move again to another state with a better offer?
History tells us the result isn’t always as rosy as the initial picture. A few examples: Digital Domain, Colt Manufacturing, and Scripps.
Wouldn’t it be a better expenditure of our tax dollars to train our workforce for the needs of industry expanding in our state? When asked, most corporations claim a major factor in their relocation and expansion decisions is a trained workforce. Doesn’t that benefit our workers, our communities and all businesses equally?
Wouldn’t it make sense to invest in our businesses and our residents? Why not help our small mom and pops with training, technology, equipment, and research? Why wouldn’t we want to first help our Florida start-ups and existing businesses expand?
Wouldn’t it also make Florida more competitive if we invested in our transportation infrastructure to move people and goods? And invest in our power grid, solar and wind generation, and water and wastewater systems to ensure adequate infrastructure to attract manufacturing jobs?
There are more effective ways to grow jobs than to use tax dollars to bribe companies to come here. And using corporate heads and lobbyists that serve on the Enterprise Florida board to pressure legislators is a little unsavory.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.