Taxpayers deserve straight numbers on incentives
Florida taxpayers would never know it from an official report, but the state corporate subsidies intended to lure businesses and jobs here are falling far short of the target. Yet Gov. Rick Scott wants to more than double the amount of money devoted to economic incentives. Taxpayers and lawmakers deserve the unvarnished facts on what the incentives are accomplishing. The Tribune’s Michael Sasso discovered that Enterprise Florida’s 2012 Annual Incentives Report omitted failing ventures in the Quick Action Closing Fund.In contrast to incentive programs that don’t provide funding until the company has created the number of jobs promised, the Quick Action Closing Fund offers upfront funding, so it naturally involves more risk. A lot of money is at stake. The state awarded more than $28 million through the program last year. In 2009, it awarded $60 million. Yet Sasso found 13 companies that participated in the program and failed to create the required jobs were left out of the official tabulation. He also found two companies listed as hitting their goals were actually 1,300 jobs behind schedule. None of this is to be found in the Enterprise Florida report, which says the state’s economic incentive efforts are 600 jobs ahead of schedule. In contrast, Sasso calculated that when the problem ventures are included, the state could be at least 5,000 jobs short of what was promised. All this should worry lawmakers and the governor, who wants to increase incentive funding from last year’s $111 million to $278 million. Last year Sasso reported nearly half of the companies that had benefited from the Quick Action Closing Fund failed to hit the state timetables for jobs or capital investments. A glaring failure was Digital Domain, which got $20 million upfront from the state in 2009 to build a digital film studio in St. Lucie County. It was supposed to create 500 jobs. Last year it filed for bankruptcy. Scott’s inspector general who reviewed the case found safeguards had not been adopted that would prevent another such blunder. Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange is looking to improve the Quick Action Closing Fund by forcing companies to put up a surety bond or some other form of security before receiving upfront money. That’s a good idea. We don’t question the need for incentives, given the fierce national competition for new companies and jobs. And it should be acknowledged that many of the state’s investments have realized a big return. But before Tallahassee puts more money into corporate subsidies, the state needs a reliable accounting process that accurately evaluates exactly what taxpayers are getting for their money. Citizens need to be assured their tax dollars are being invested carefully and monitored closely.