News Column

Legislators Urge Transparency on Economic Incentives

Jan 31, 2013

Marcia Heroux Pounds

During January, it seems like every week Gov. Rick Scott was making an appearance at a local company that was creating jobs, several with the promise of economic incentives from the state.

In fiscal 2012, nearly $72 million in incentive payments were made to 103 companies that created 13,000 new jobs with an average annual wage of $69,000.

State representative Jose Rodriguez said more transparency is needed in those taxpayer-funded programs and he has proposed legislation for more stringent reporting for economic incentives.

"Economic development is one of our major strategies. I'm looking at this [bill] as strengthening these programs," said Rodriguez, D-Miami. "Some may be working well; some may not. We need to be able to assess that."

There often has been a cloak of secrecy around incentives awarded, especially from the governor's Quick Action Closing Fund, used to close deals when Florida is competing for jobs.

The legislation follows the state's largest failure in its economic incentives program. Florida is trying to recover at least $20 million of the multi-millions invested in Digital Domain Media Group, a Port St. Lucie movie effects company that shut down last fall, laying off 280 employees and then filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In Palm Beach and Broward counties, there were more than 20 companies awarded incentives from February 2011 to November 2012. The largest award, $1.5 million, went to Margate-based Saveology.com in 2011, under the Brownfield Redevelopment Bonus Tax Refund program that provides incentives for redevelopment of blighted or environmentally contaminated properties.

The counties' businesses are in "good standing" in meeting conditions for incentives, according to Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity.

Rodriguez's bill would require the DEO to publish online information on state investment in economic incentives. It also requires the agency to publish updates twice a year on projects awarded incentives from the Quick Action Closing Fund.

A companion bill is expected to be filed by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, R-Hollywood, who says transparency is "long overdue." She wants to know whether the money is going to the creation of high-wage, highly-skilled jobs. "I don't know what kinds of jobs are being created with these incentives," she said.

There should be a website that taxpayers and job seekers can review, Sobel said, reporting any taxpayer money given -- even Miami's pro football team seeking a county tax hike to upgrade Sun Life Stadium.

"If the Dolphins get that money, they should be on the list so the public can see the jobs being created," she said. "This bill holds their feet to the fire."



Source: (c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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