Politics

Taxpayer help for sports, films doesn’t add up for Florida

Florida is spending millions to help professional sports teams and to lure Hollywood to make films here, but it’s not clear if the investment is paying off.

State legislators in 2013 ordered auditors and economists to analyze the millions spent by the state on subsidies for businesses.

New reports issued this month show that some incentive programs, like money spent on beach restoration or on advertisements aimed at tourists generate more money for the state than what it spent.

But those same reports show that the taxpayer money spent to help pro teams build or renovate stadiums or to keep Major League Baseball spring training is costing more than what the state gets in return.

For example, in three years taxpayers have paid out $48 million to help pay for work on pro stadiums but the investment has resulted in a $14.2 million return for the state.

The state has spent nearly $13 million to help cities and counties with ballparks used for spring training, yet it has yielded only an estimated $1.4 million in return.

Economists contend that most of the people who visit the stadiums and ballparks are state residents and are spending money they would have spent elsewhere in Florida. The report is coming out right before the state is considering whether to extend additional financial assistance to professional sports franchises.

Tax credits and sales tax exemptions meant to prompt the film and television industry to make movies and TV shows in the Sunshine State also have not produced a windfall.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, is promising a “cold hard” review of many of the state’s business incentives by the legislative panel that she leads.

“Let’s look at the hard data and see if our money did what we wanted to do,” said Detert, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Commerce and Tourism committee.

Detert has supported adding money into the state’s film and television incentive program. But she said the new reports should be used as a guide on how to ensure that the dollars spent by the state are helping grow Florida’s economy.

She wants to hear from those in the industry about the state reports. Detert said she has already heard from some in the entertainment industry who questioned the methodology used by state economists.

Some critics, however, say the state should eliminate any incentives that reward certain businesses with taxpayer help.

“If Hollywood can’t pay for itself, and sports can’t pay for itself it means the market can’t support it,” said Chris Hudson, Florida State director for Americans for Prosperity.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said that many of the existing incentive programs “serve a good purpose” but he said he is also open to having legislators spend time this year deciding if some of them need to be eliminated.

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