Make us your home page

Florida senator wants to end secrecy on tax incentives for businesses

TALLAHASSEE — A Republican state senator wants to end secrecy surrounding deals that use tax dollars to lure companies to Florida or that keep existing businesses from leaving.

"Once the deal is signed, all the details should be open to the public," said Nancy Detert, R-Venice, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.

The public record exemption hides details for two years, including the name of the company, for deals that use taxpayer money to create jobs. Since Gov. Rick Scott took office in January, the exemption has been used 49 times.

Some details, including the average wage for the newly created jobs, are secret for the duration for the deal. Other information, such as trade secrets, is confidential forever.

The exemption is scheduled to sunset Oct. 1. A bill (SB 7014) that would simply re-enact the law is scheduled for a hearing today in Detert's committee.

But the veteran lawmaker said in an interview Monday that she will postpone the hearing to write an amendment that ends the two-year exemption and provides the public faster access to the deals.

"Everyone comes and promises us jobs," said Detert, who owned a mortgage company for more than 20 years. "We still have close to 1 million people unemployed, so where are the jobs we gave you all this money to create?"

Florida has paid $739 million in incentives since 1995 to companies like Wal-Mart, Burger King and Coca-Cola to create 86,284 jobs. Details for other deals worth millions more remain shielded.

Most of the state's incentive contracts are performance-based, which means companies earn money as they add jobs or make capital investments. Those deals are audited annually, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity says.

Other deals give companies cash up front. At least six companies have received $23.3 million in recent years without fulfilling their jobs promise. The state is attempting to renegotiate those contracts.

A spokesman for the Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees many of the incentive funds, declined to comment on Detert's position.

"We support the law being re-enacted," spokesman James Miller said.

Scott's jobs czar, Gray Swoope, said parts of the exemption were crucial, but declined to talk specifics during an interview Friday.

"When they're using state funds, I think companies understand that there is the accountability measure that's there," Swoope, the Enterprise Florida CEO whom Scott lured from Mississippi, said Friday. "But a lot of times in these things where they're negotiating . . . they're covered by confidentiality for various reasons.

"There's things about market share, things that they're doing that, from a competition standpoint, it would be detrimental to the company if that was released."

An open government advocate, meanwhile, applauded Detert but said the public should have some access to details before contracts are signed.

"They're trading in public assets and saying, 'Trust us,' " Florida First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said. "We need to be able to see this information to hold the government accountable and the companies that make promises to us in return for our money accountable."

Michael C. Bender can be reached at or (850) 224-7263. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelCBender.

Florida senator wants to end secrecy on tax incentives for businesses 10/31/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 31, 2011 9:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  2. How Hollywood is giving its biggest stars digital facelifts


    LOS ANGELES — Johnny Depp is 53 years old but he doesn't look a day over 26 in the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie — at least for a few moments. There was no plastic surgeon involved, heavy makeup or archival footage used to take the actor back to his boyish "Cry Baby" face, however. It's all …

    This combination of photos released by Disney, shows the character Jack Sparrow at two stages of his life in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."  Johnny Depp, who portrays the character, is the latest mega-star to get the drastic de-aging treatment on screen
[Disney via Associated Press]
  3. Precinct Pizza to cover new neighborhood


    NEW TAMPA — In 2006, husband and wife, Rick and Jessica Drury opened up Precinct Pizza in Channelside.

    Precinct Pizza looks to gain greater popularity in New Tampa with its Bambino Bleu Cheese piazza. Photo courtesy of Precinct Pizza.
  4. Da Burger Joint's menu goes beyond 'da burger'


    OLDSMAR — After owning and operating restaurants in four different states, Danny Falcone recently opened his ninth restaurant in Oldsmar.

    The old-fashioned onion burger is a favorite at the Da Burger Joint in Oldsmar. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  5. Vegan kitchen comes to Downtown Tampa


    Charles Rumph and Tim Fedorko's first attempt at launching a vegan restaurant concept in Tampa "was a disaster."

    Farmacy Vegan Kitchen + Bakery serves wraps, acai bowls, smoothies and juices and plant-based baked goods like strawberry cupcakes. Photo courtesy of Charles Rumph.