Several bills have been introduced in the 2017 legislative session to address the issue of “corporate welfare.”
HB 9, sponsored by Rep. Paul Renner (R), deals with VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s official tourism marketing organization, a quasi-government agency which uses taxpayer dollars to promote tourism to Florida. The agency recently came under fire for a $1 million deal with entertainer ‘Pitbull’ for a music video promoting Miami, a $1.2 million deal advertising Florida with a British soccer team, and a $2.8 million deal to promote the state on a race car. The bill aims for more transparency and legislative oversight. Every contract with VISIT FLORIDA would be posted on a state website, and every contract worth $750,000 or more would have to go to the Legislature for consultation. In addition, the governor would have to approve all out-of-state and foreign travel. The Florida Senate would have to confirm VISIT FLORIDA’s CEO and the agency would have to submit its budget to the Legislature every year. The bill limits compensation for the agency’s employees, benefits frozen at current levels and bonuses prohibited. In addition, employees and board members will be prohibited from receiving food, beverages, lodging, entertainment or gifts from the agency or from any local tourism or economic development agency.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R) is pushing very heavily HB 7005, which would eliminate the state’s “economic incentive” programs, such as Enterprise Florida Inc. (EFI), stop counties from spending bed tax money on stadiums for sport franchises, and end tax credits for filmmakers. Governor Rick Scott adamantly opposes the bill. The Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity notes “Florida has spent almost $3.5 billion on nearly 3,000 subsidies to big businesses since 1995… Florida residents work hard to provide for our families. Our government should not be using our hard-earned tax dollars to fund big corporations who don’t need or deserve handouts. The legislature should live within their means, focus on real infrastructure needs, and return more money back to taxpayers because that money belongs to them…” Between 2006-2008, eight companies received $444 million in state incentives and only one met or surpassed job promises. The Florida House created a YouTube video making the case against Enterprise Florida. The video describes a deal with Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute that received over $300 million tax dollars, yet failed to deliver on its commitments. The video also discusses Digital Domain, a company who took a $20-million loan from taxpayers, only to later file for bankruptcy and cost hundreds of jobs. Other targets of the video are the million dollar deal with entertainer “Pitbull” from Visit Florida. The video points out “13 companies taking your taxpayer dollars and failing to deliver on jobs promises,” though this is, of course, not a conclusive list. The video says, “No more picking winners and losers. No more taking taxpayers for granted. No more handouts. No more bailouts. No more EFI.” The video concludes with a bite of former President Ronald Reagan saying, “There are a number of subsidies to business and industry that I believe are unnecessary, not because the activities being subsidized aren’t of value, but because the marketplace contains incentives enough to warrant continuing these activities without a government subsidy.” Here is the Florida House staff staff analysis of HB 7005.