TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's jobs czar said Tuesday that he supports a quicker release of information about the secret tax incentive deals the state gives some of the largest companies in the world.
"Once a deal is made, I have no problem and do believe we have a fiduciary duty to provide the details to the public," Enterprise Florida CEO Gray Swoope said in an interview.
Swoope's opinion is crucial because Scott said it will be the most influential as he decides whether to support or oppose changes to the state's public records law.
"It makes it more difficult to get something done if you're negotiating a deal and if you're constantly talking about it in public," Scott said. "So I don't know if the right time period is immediately after it's completed or two years."
The public records exemption hides details for two years, including the name of the company, for deals that use taxpayer money to create jobs. Some details, including the average wage for the newly created jobs, are secret for the duration of the deal. Other information, such as trade secrets, is confidential forever.
The exemption is scheduled to sunset next Oct. 1. A bill (SB 7014) that would re-enact the law was scheduled for a vote Tuesday in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.
But committee chair Nancy Detert, R-Venice, postponed the hearing after reports that the state has received about one in three jobs it anticipated with incentive deals.
Scott, who was on a trade mission in Brazil when the state reported its tax incentive numbers, said companies should repay cash incentives if they have not created the jobs promised. "If they owe us the money back, they should pay us the money back."
Scott said he had not reviewed details that show Florida has paid $739 million in incentives since 1995 to companies like Walmart and Coca-Cola to create 86,284 jobs. Nearly all of the deals were made before he took office.
The state is trying to renegotiate contracts with six companies that took more than $23 million but did not create promised jobs.
"We keep throwing all this money out there and what did we get?" Detert said.
Swoope said he will talk about the state's incentive programs today during an Enterprise Florida board of directors meeting in Fort Lauderdale. The Department of Economic Development, Scott's new agency geared toward job creation, is sending top officials to legislative committees to answer any questions about the programs.
First Amendment Foundation president Barbara Petersen suggested the state release details before deals are final, an idea Detert and Swoope dismissed.
"We have to watch how we maintain privacy during the negotiations," Swoope said, "but once the deal is done, I believe in the disclosure of details. The public has a right to get that information."
Michael C. Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.