Since 2013, Universal Orlando has been the beneficiary millions of dollars in tax breaks, through a program intending to help high-crime neighborhoods.
That has given lawmakers pause, as well as an excuse to eliminate the program entirely.
A bill for the 2017 Legislative Session seeking to close Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida (HB 7005) will also cut other incentive programs, including the job tax credit for urban high-crime-areas.
“Really from A to Z, that program has been an abysmal failure and a waste of money. It’s a money grab for Fortune 500 companies,” said Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is spearheading the legislation.
When you visit Universal, Corcoran told the Orlando Sentinel “you know very well it’s not blighted or high crime.”
The Sentinel’s Sandra Pedicini writes that the Orlando theme park’s operating company, Universal City Development Partners had received almost $4 million in tax breaks in the past three years, representing half the total amount distributed through the program during that time.
Another $1.7 million were approved for joint projects between Universal’s corporate owner and Loews Hotels.
That a small number of businesses reap the benefits from the program has not escaped notice from lawmakers looking to cut the program, including palm coast Republican Rep. Paul Renner, who sponsored HB 7005.
“The Urban High-Crime Area Job Tax Credit Program is historically an underutilized incentive program and … has not been a significant factor in business location decisions,” Renner told the Sentinel in an email
HB 7005 also targets several other programs, such as brownfield redevelopment and tax incentives four defense-contractor.
“A lot of these economic development programs have value,” said Brooke Bonnett, director of economic development for the city of Orlando. “Do they need to be retooled along the way? Maybe, but local governments have to use what’s available to us.”
Bonnett notes that smaller organizations have also taken advantage of the high-crime program. For example, Orlando amusement park Fun Spot received $13,000 in 2013 to create 26 jobs.
According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Universal has received approval for $10.1 million in high-crime tax credits since 1999. UCF Hotel Venture, which operates facilities at universal, received another $3.7 million.