Shaping up to be one of the biggest battles in the Legislature in many years, the fight on economic development incentives and tourism funding has been swirling throughout the halls of the Capitol the last few weeks. On one side are those who believe that taxpayer dollars should not be used to entice businesses and tourists to Florida; the other side sees these programs as crucial for creating jobs and boosting our economy.
Having watched and safeguarded taxpayer dollars being spent and invested for nearly than 40 years, I am convinced by overwhelming evidence that these programs are essential components in the toolkit to grow the Sunshine State, but equally assured that proper oversight is as vital as the programs themselves.
Florida TaxWatch independent research – as well as analysis by the state’s economists – has shown that Florida’s economic development incentives that are targeted to specific industries and investments have generated positive return on investment by enticing qualifying businesses to bring high-wage jobs to the state and diversifying the state’s industry portfolio. These results boost the state economy, creating a rising tide and lifting up all boats in the process.
Our state’s economy continues to flourish with non-farm employment hitting a high of 8.4 million jobs and the unemployment rate averaging 4.8 percent throughout 2016. While many jobs are not directly created with incentives, we would not see the same level of success if we hadn’t implemented these programs. If Florida wants to continue to compete with the nation, it must have smart incentive programs that attract and expand high-wage jobs and entice companies that otherwise may not come to Florida.
Since all of our competitor states, as well as nearly every other state in the Union, use incentives, it would be a major detriment to Florida if we eliminated our economic development incentive programs. If our state was to just do away with incentives, we would be at a major economic disadvantage. This unilateral disarmament would significantly hurt our national and global perception of being open for business, discouraging capital investment, hurting our economy and resulting in fewer high-wage jobs.
We, as the taxpayers, through our elected leaders must commit to funding targeted and focused economic incentive programs that include protections for Florida taxpayers, in order to compete with other states. The fight in the Legislature is a valid debate over the importance of incentives and I agree that wasteful and inefficient spending of taxpayer dollars is foolish. But the reality – for better or for worse – is that incentives are needed to ensure and continue the growth of our state economy.
I strongly urge the Legislature to competitively fund our economic development incentive programs to ensure that Florida remains the top state to work and to live.
Dominic Calabro has been the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute & government watchdog, for more than 37 years.