Gov. Rick Scott signs transparency for economic incentives into law. (Photo courtesy of Rick Scott.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law today that would create some transparency in the state’s controversial economic incentives program.

The state’s economic development agency, through a public-private partnership called Enterprise Florida, has doled out millions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies to big companies in Florida in exchange for job creation.

However, there has been little to no public disclosure about whether those jobs are actually being created. Integrity Florida, a statewide ethics watchdog, wrote in a press release today that companies have not been entirely up their end of the exchange.

According to Integrity Florida:

In 1992, the Florida Legislature created Enterprise Florida with an initial objective of creating 200,000 high wage jobs by 2005. Eight years beyond its original deadline for job creation, Enterprise Florida is less than halfway to its jobs goal. [Emphasis mine]

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. The Florida Legislature mandates that Enterprise Florida obtain fifty percent of its operational budget from private sector contributions but the organization’s revenue is presently far short of that mark. Lawmakers may want to revisit Enterprise Florida accountability again in 2014 if the public-private partnership continues to fall short of its required level of private sector support.”

These economic incentives via Enterprise Florida have been one of the major components of Scott’s job creation plans. No other governor in Florida’s history has spent as much money as the Scott administration on economic incentives. For this upcoming fiscal year, Scott asked the Florida Legislature to allocate $278 million for the state’s economic incentives program, but state lawmakers allocated about one-fourth of that amount.

And up until now, there really hasn’t been a way to see whether the strategy is working effectively.

Integrity Florida said that the newly signed House Bill 7007 will be a step toward that transparency.

According to the group, HB 7007:

  1. Implements an independent return on investment calculator to assess taxpayer-funded economic development projects pursued by state government.
  2. Builds an online database of all state and local tax incentives given to businesses for economic development.
  3. Adds accountability clauses to applications to protect taxpayers in economic development agreements between the state government and companies receiving incentives.
  4. Increases public access to information about taxpayer-funded economic development incentive deals.

HB 7007 also creates a tax break for manufacturers in Florida. The tax break was one of Scott’s legislative priorities this legislative session.

There has also been some controversy surrounding whether this bill legitimately passed in the Florida Legislature. Some state analysts said a supermajority vote was required for the bill to pass because it would negatively affect the revenues of local governments by a large amount. However, the bill only passed with a simple majority. Since that time, some analysts have reversed their opinion that a supermajority was needed.

Integrity Florida and the state’s Office of Inspector General have offered many other ideas on how to improve Enterprise Florida and the state’s economic incentives program, but they have not become law.