Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Politics

Bowen: Job-incentive dispute pits legislators against their own personal histories

The political fisticuffs between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran over Enterprise Florida has two of Pasco's state legislators trapped right in the middle.

The brouhaha doesn't have them caught between the governor and speaker as much as it has the legislators bumping up against their own family or personal voting records.

Start with 21-year-old freshman Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, who begins her first 60-day legislative session next week. She is in the speaker's corner in the dispute over the future of Enterprise Florida, the state's economic recruiting agency, and the job-creating incentives offered to private companies.

"We believe that the free market allocates capital and employment far more efficiently than government picking sides," Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said in a Feb. 2 tweet.

A day later, Mariano took to Twitter to reinforce her support.

"Well said @richardcorcoran. No more picking winners & losers," she tweeted.

Fast-forward 18 days to New Port Richey when the Pasco County Commission was asked to commit $108,000 as an incentive to an unknown company that has ambitions to create 90 jobs with annual salaries averaging $78,000. The state would refund $6,000 in taxes per job created. The county would be on the hook for 20 percent of that $540,000 rebate if the company sets up operations in Pasco.

"Great news; move approval," said the first commissioner to speak — the legislator's father, Commissioner Jack Mariano.

Guess he missed the tweet. Either that or Father Knows Best reruns never aired on their television. Imagine the dining room table talk in that household.

"We've had the conversation," Commissioner Mariano said. "But, I encouraged her to keep on getting information and talking about it actively. … If everybody is focused on creating jobs and accountability, I'm okay with discussion going on."

Commissioner Mariano is the only commission member who was in office during the 2012 voter referendum in which 70 percent of the electorate renewed the Penny for Pasco sales tax. It sets aside $56 million for Pasco's economic development efforts through 2024.

And, during the campaign leading to the vote, Mariano wanted to allocate even more of the sales tax proceeds to transportation and economic development. In other words, he's a longtime believer in offering business incentives.

His daughter, apparently, is not.

Across the county, Rep. Danny Burgess, R-San Antonio, is entering his second term representing east and central Pasco. The former Zephyrhills mayor and City Council member also used social media to backstop Corcoran.

"This is how corporate welfare fails the public. No more picking winners & losers," Burgess tweeted Feb. 17, a day after Corcoran released a three-minute video critical of Enterprise Florida's track record.

"I believe very firmly that government doesn't create jobs. It should help foster a climate of job creation by treating companies fairly and not subsidizing others and picking winners over losers," Burgess said later in an interview.

Investing in education and infrastructure is a better economic development tool, he said.

But, not always. One of the first highly publicized incentive packages offered by Pasco County went to Sysco Food Service in 2007 when it proposed building a distribution center in southeast Pasco.

It was supposed to be a nearly 400,000-square-foot plant, employing 257 people earning between $45,000 and $100,000 annually. Sysco still owns the 62 acres targeted for the plant, but never built it and never took advantage of the $5 million worth of government incentives.

The job-creation package included refunds to Sysco of more than $2.76 million from the city of Zephyrhills for property taxes, impact fees and utility connection costs. The Zephyr­hills City Council approved the deal in two separate votes in July and August 2007. Council member Danny Burgess joined the unanimous support both times.

During our interview, Burgess declined comment on the Sysco vote, saying he couldn't recall the details.

Well, take another look at the details. By any reasonable account, they show Burgess favored corporate welfare when he thought his hometown would be one of the winners.

 
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