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Despite misgivings, a House panel backs a bill eliminating Enterprise Florida and 25 other incentive programs

A white, domed building with red and white awnings is partly shrouded by a Live Oak tree on a sunny afternon
Craig Moore
/
WFSU Public Media
The afternoon sun shines on the Old Capitol building.

Florida could shed a few more state agencies and programs by the time it’s annual lawmaking session is over—one big one slated for removal is Enterprise Florida, which was created by lawmakers in 1996 to grow the state’s private sector. The elimination of 25 tax incentive programs including Enterprise Florida is even giving some Republicans heartburn.

Enterprise Florida’s job was to help diversify Florida’s tourism and agriculture based economy by helping recruit more corporations to the state. It does that by offering tax exemptions and other incentives. House Speaker Paul Renner, during his opening address to the chamber, called for an elimination of Enterprise Florida.

“Enterprise Florida has overpromised and under-delivered for years. And drains funds from higher priorities. If this were Washington D.C., it would live on forever…but the Florida way requires us to retain only what works and eliminate what does not," he told the House.

The public-private partnership was created in 1996, But Renner says it’s outlived its usefulness. This isn’t the first time lawmakers have targeted the agency. In 2017, then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran attempted to get rid of Enterprise Florida, describing it as “corporate welfare.” It’s a moment West Palm Beach Republican Rep. Rick Roth recalls.

“I think the easiest way for me to think about this is that we’re using a scalpel, not a sledgehammer," said Roth about the proposal. "We began looking at Enterprise Florida when I was a freshman, and I believe Speaker Corcoran scared the Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida folks.”   

Roth sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, which took up a bill to eliminate Enterprise Florida and repeal 25 other industry-specific programs. It would also drastically change Visit Florida, and the Florida Sports foundation. The bill is sponsored by Republican Representative Tiffany Esposito, who told committee members that lawmakers have a responsibility to protect Floridians’ money.

“We shouldn’t be subsidizing a single business or industry," she said. Such programs should "uplift the entire state and economy.”    

Yet there is some consternation over the possibility of ending tax exemptions and credits for films. There are conflicting state analyses on whether those incentives have a strong return on investment. Esposito says the figure is about 65 cents on the dollar while another analysis from the Department of Revenue found in 2022, that 1,217 film projects using a sales-tax exemption program spent more than $1.4 billion in the state. It's an issue that’s part of the many concerns of Republican Rep. Mike Caruso.

“I will always be disappointed, when I go to the movies, to see the peach and not the orange.”

Much of the work of these entities would be transferred to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which isn’t without its own problems

“I’m not ultimately opposed to everything in this bill, I do have concerns over DEO’s capacity," said Rep. Dan Daley, echoing other concerns by other lawmakers over whether DEO can handle the job given its high profile failure to deal with unemployment benefits during the early days of the pandemic.

Still, there’s much that both Republicans and Democrats say they like about the bill—such as the fact that more economic development incentive programs are coming under scrutiny. So, despite some misgivings, the measure, House Bill 5, continues moving though the process.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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