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Florida’s taxpayer funded business incentives on the chopping block

By   /   April 25, 2013  /   News  /   No Comments

Courtesy of Enterprise Florida

PARTNERS IN INCENTIVES: Gov. Rick Scott and Gray Swoope, president & CEO of Enterprise Florida Inc.

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE – Funding for Florida’s leading tax incentive organization is on the chopping block.

With only a handful of days left in Florida’s two-month annual legislative session, lawmakers from both the House and Senate are drastically departing from Gov. Rick Scott’s $278 million funding request for an organization called Enterprise Florida Inc.

In a legislative conference committee on Tuesday, lawmakers offered just 20 percent of Scott’s budget request for economic development incentives, and less than half of the current year’s $111 million subsidies budget.

A record of notable bankruptcies by companies receiving taxpayer funds despite initial warning signs, and an awareness report issued by the non-partisan watchdog group Integrity Florida, has put the spotlight on EFI.

“Enterprise Florida has been operating as an outsourced commerce department with 90 percent of its funding from taxpayers, but less transparency than a state agency,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida.

Enterprise Florida Inc. is a public-private partnership that serves as Florida’s primary organization devoted to statewide economic development, according to its website.

KRASSNER: EFI runs with little transparency.

The organization is funded, in part, by the state of Florida as well as by cash and donations from private business. EFI assists companies confidentially regarding expansion and location plans.

The legislature has also passed new transparency and accountability requirements tied to future EFI giveaways.

“It’s encouraging to see bipartisan support for more transparency, accountability and proof of return on investment for taxpayers.  The reduction in the subsidies budget could be related to Enterprise Florida’s built-in conflicts of interest and questionable results.  Lawmakers may be losing confidence in the entity and its failure to prove the subsidies strategy works,” Krassner said.

In an email to EFI’s board of directors on Tuesday, chief executive officer Gray Swoope urged board members to get involved.

“Three budget items remain a concern as the Legislature move towards final negotiations: funding for Florida’s incentive programs, export assistance grants and the marketing of Florida’s business brand.  We are asking for our board members to call key legislative contacts and express support for the full funding of these items,” wrote Swoope.

A list of talking points addressing both House and Senate leadership and their respective appropriations chairmen were provided in the email, along with their contact information.

The tax subsidies are now in the hands of budget appropriations chairs Sen. Joe Negron and Rep. Seth McKeel, and will then move to Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford.

The budget will have to survive a potential veto by Scott.

Contact William Patrick at [email protected]

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William Patrick is Watchdog.org’s Florida reporter. His work has been featured by Fox News, the Drudge Report, and Townhall.com, as well as other national news and opinion websites. He’s also been cited and reposted by numerous state news organizations, including Florida Trend, Sunshine State News and the Miami Herald, and is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Florida Press Association. William’s work has impacted discussions on education, privacy, criminal justice reform, and government and corporate accountability. Prior to joining Watchdog, William worked for the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. There, he launched a legislative news website covering state economic issues. After leaving New York City in 2010, William worked for the Florida Attorney General’s Office where he assisted state attorneys general in prosecuting Medicaid Fraud. William graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College, City University of New York. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife and three young children.