Florida's new legislative leaders — Senate President Joe Negron and Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran — are gearing up for the 2017 legislative session. Their most difficult task is crafting a spending plan that addresses the state's most pressing needs while keeping an eye on future goals and preparing for emergencies.
We're fortunate that Florida's economy continues to improve and we have enjoyed a healthy revenue stream. Tourism is flourishing and people are moving into our state and bringing more dollars. But with that growth and influx of visitors comes the need for more infrastructure and services.
We need more roads, schools and hospitals. There's a greater demand on our water resources, our sewer systems and our energy capacity and distribution. We'll need to add more facilities and improve and repair our existing ones.
We need more people to provide government services — teachers, judges, law enforcement and first responders, to name a few.
This gets to the philosophic core of the role of government. What should government do and how much should it tax to do it?
Regardless of your political ideology, most reasonable persons can agree that in states like Florida where you are required to balance the budget, you can't spend more than you have, so you must prioritize spending.
Republicans are in control of both chambers of the Legislature and the governor's office so there's general agreement on no new taxes and some tax breaks. Beyond that, their priorities vary.
Senate President Negron has specific budget goals. He wants to increase funding for higher education and to provide money for a new reservoir to reduce environmental damage to the Indian River Lagoon. Both are worthy causes that will benefit Floridians.
Gov. Rick Scott has asked for a 5 percent salary increase for law enforcement. His request is likely to be honored at some amount.
But Scott is going back to the well for funding he was denied last year. Scott's requesting tens of millions of dollars in economic incentive funding that he says he needs to lure businesses to the state and to expand existing businesses.
Speaker Corcoran — a small government proponent — is not a fan.
Referring to the job incentive money, Corcoran has repeatedly said that hundreds of millions of tax dollars are wasted on corporate welfare and that legislators have lost sight of their conservative principles. Last session, Corcoran played a key role in killing Scott's job incentive funding. And it appears it is in jeopardy again this year.
Corcoran believes that government should not be picking the winners and losers through these business deals. I agree.
This is not the proper role of government. Government should not tax those who are struggling to give to wealthy corporations in the hope that it will create jobs and sustain them. That is corporate welfare and it's on the backs of hard-working folks.
It's not the best use of our limited dollars. We have pressing needs that have gone unfunded while year after year huge sums of money get thrown at businesses to relocate here. We can't fix our roads, yet we create a greater need for them using the money we could have spent on them.
Why not invest in retraining workers to provide companies what they really need — a ready workforce? Our investment would be a win/win by also benefiting Floridians who would become more employable.
The results of throwing money at businesses are not impressive. We occasionally hear about a high-profile case that went bust like Digital Domain or that underperformed like Sanford Burnham, but the failure of many incentive deals goes unnoticed.
When the deal is struck there's great fanfare — press conferences, ground-breakings, ribbon-cuttings — to allow elected officials to take a victory lap. Because of the secrecy surrounding the deals we don't know if the taxpayers were well-served. Since there is considerable lag time for the promised jobs to materialize, by then few are paying attention.
Fortunately, Integrity Florida was. The respected government watchdog teamed with Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political group, to research these economic development efforts. They released their 2013 report — Enterprise Florida: Economic Development or Corporate Welfare?
They found that Enterprise Florida had failed to meet its job creation objective:
"In 1992, the Florida Legislature created Enterprise Florida with an initial objective of creating 200,000 high-wage jobs by 2005. After 20 years and despite negotiating more than 1,600 transactions worth more than $1.7 billion, Enterprise Florida reports only 103,544 jobs have been delivered since 1995 — half of their original target and eight years beyond its original target date."
That $1.7 billion could have been put to much better use. I'm with Speaker Corcoran on this one.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at [email protected]