Tampa voters will be asked in the March 1 election whether to authorize the city to grant tax breaks to businesses that expand or relocate to Tampa. Offering tax breaks can be a slippery slope as communities compete for jobs in this struggling economy. But the measure levels the playing field for Tampa, and it would come with protections. Voters should approve it.
The proposal would enable the city to exempt up to the full amount of the taxes a business would pay on property and equipment for up to 10 years. The waiver would apply only to city taxes and not affect those levied by the schools or other taxing districts.
Hillsborough County voters approved a similar referendum in November, which the Times opposed. But now city voters should extend the same breaks to prevent the county from having a competitive edge over the city in attracting business. Any application would be vetted on a case-by-case basis by the mayor and approved by City Council. Nearly all the candidates for mayor and the council this year talked responsibly about putting such a program in place. And it makes sense to encourage many of these businesses to locate in the urban areas, anyway, where taxpayers have already invested in the necessary public infrastructure.
These incentives are not the end-all for job development, and each case raises fundamental questions about proportion and fairness. But approving the tax break at least gives the city and county an opportunity to work in concert rather than against each other. On the ballot question of whether to authorize the city to offer property tax breaks to new and expanding businesses, the Times recommends a yes vote.