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“Economic development or corporate welfare?” asks watchdog group

Posted Feb 5, 2013 by William March

Updated Feb 5, 2013 at 07:07 PM

A Tallahassee watchdog group issued a scathing report today on Enterprise Florida Inc., the state’s business recruiting agency, saying there are indications it has failed in its mission and may simply be dispensing “corporate welfare.”

But Dan Krassner, head of the non-profit Integrity Florida, said Enterprise Florida is so secretive in how it handles its money, including dispensing taxpayer-funded incentives to companies that bring jobs to the state, that it’s impossible to tell how effective the incentives have been.

The report said Enterprise has failed to meet objectives in the 1992 legislation that set it up, including creating 200,000 high wage jobs by 2005 and deriving half its funding from the private sector by 2001.

As of today, “Despite negotiating more than 1,600 transactions involving economic development incentive agreements worth more than $1.7 billion … only 103,544 jobs have been delivered,” and Enterprise Florida still gets more than 85 percent of its $16.5 million budget from the state.

The report said Governor Rick Scott’s proposed 2013-2014 budget includes $297 million to lure companies to Florida or help them expand, a sharp increase from current $71.2 million.

In response, Scott’s office released a letter from Enterprise Florida to legislative leaders defending its performance.

The letter listed nine announcements of recent projects that it said were to bring about 3,800 new jobs to Florida and retain about 900 more, along with hundreds of millions in capital investment, calling them “a sampling of the top announcements from around the state” for 2010-12.” It didn’t say what taxpayer incentives were involved.

“Economic Development or Corporate Welfare?” is the title of Integrity Florida report, but asked which he thinks it is, Krassner said it’s impossible for the public to tell.

Enterprise Florida “has been one of the more secretive parts of state government, and has failed to provide adequate disclosure of where they spend their money,” he said. “The question is open for lawmakers and it will take much more disclosure from EFI to answer it.”

The report was sponsored Americans for Prosperity, a political committee funded by the conservative business tycoons David and Charles Koch. That led to the resignation of one member of Integrity Florida’s board of directors, former newspaper editor Martin Dyckman, who said it could create the false impression that the report is a product of a special interest group.

Integrity Florida’s report is here, and the Enterprise Florida response is here.

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