1. Opinion

Column: The case against spending tax money on job incentives, tourism promotion

Published Feb. 6, 2017

Your tax dollars are being used to pick winners and losers among competing businesses through tens of millions spent on "economic incentives," essentially paying companies to come to or even stay in Florida.

Government's proper role is to protect and preserve political and economic freedom and the rule of law so there is a level playing field for everyone. It is time we the people put an end to this corporate welfare system that taxes everyone to provide benefits to a privileged few.

I am the sponsor of the House bill that would abolish Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency that hands out millions in taxpayer money to companies, ostensibly to create jobs; and Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency that proponents would say spends millions in public money to promote tourism. The bill has its first hearing Wednesday at the House Careers and Competition subcommittee.

Taxpayer-funded incentives are wrong for several reasons:

• Incentives take money away from truly critical priorities. Ask yourself and your friends to name the top priorities on which government should focus. It is almost certain that economic incentives will not make anyone's list. In a world of limited budgets, the millions spent on economic incentives represent money not available for public safety, infrastructure, education or other critical needs. As long as we have crime in our communities, roads to repair and students who cannot read, we should not give tax dollars to businesses with healthy balance sheets.

• Incentives are unfair to taxpayers. They take from the many to benefit the few. Everyone who pays taxes is contributing to Enterprise Florida and similar incentive programs, yet only a small handful of businesses are able to work the system and secure funding. Most of us paying the bill will never see any direct benefit from these types of programs.

• Incentives ignore and prejudice the small businesses that are Florida's true job creators. We know that small business is the engine of the economy and accounts for the vast majority of new jobs in our state. Yet incentives include money given to out-of-state companies to come to Florida and compete against our small businesses. The majority of economic incentive money in Florida goes to businesses with more than 1,000 employees. Instead of these selective incentives, we should look for tax relief that benefits everyone, including the small businesses that employ most Floridians.

• Government is incapable of beating the free market when it comes to choosing what businesses deserve support. Consumers reward businesses that best meet their needs and avoid businesses that don't. If you provide great quality and a good price, your business grows. If not, it doesn't. It's the people's choice. A government-run incentive program ignores the consumer opinion of 19 million Floridians because it allows a business to take taxpayer money without proving its real value to you and me.

• Funneling millions of dollars through government boards inevitably leads to problems of improper influence and self-dealing. Just last week, we learned that $9.1 million of your money was directed to a company led by the former head of Visit Florida. Apparently, before he left, he hired the new agency executive, who later awarded successive contracts to his new employer for "international advertising." A reporter's request for details was met with a claim of confidentiality. These problems are systemic when government controls large sums of money and gets into the business of business, where it does not belong.

This legislative session, the House will end taxpayer-funded corporate welfare in Florida. This effort will have bipartisan support, including both limited-government conservatives like me as well as principled liberals offended by benefits for big business. Voters of every political persuasion want an end to favoritism and special deals. Stop spending our money to favor a privileged few. Instead, government should focus its resources on our most important priorities and get those right.

The best incentives for our economy are policies that broadly benefit all Floridians and expand the economic freedom on which real prosperity is based. We should promote reforms that spur economic growth and job creation, provide excellent education for a talented workforce, and strengthen the rule of law. If government focuses on these foundational areas and stops picking winners and losers, Florida will become an even greater place of opportunity and prosperity — for everyone.

Rep. Paul Renner is a Republican from Jacksonville.