TALLAHASSEE — Republicans in the Florida House proudly declared they were rooting out wasteful "corporate welfare" in state government to protect taxpayers.
But while they agreed to eliminate tax credit programs for everything from the state's job recruitment agency to sports stadiums, they carved out an exception for what is considered the worst tax incentive of all.
Tucked on page 65 of a 187-page bill is a clause that continues to award $2 million in annual tax credits to the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine for the next six years. Even in their analysis to members, House Republicans called the museum the single worst bet the state is making with tax credits.
The House voted March 10 by a 87-28 vote to kill 24 tax credits — but saved the one paid to the Hall of Fame.
The bill has become the biggest political battle in Florida politics. Gov. Rick Scott has touted tax credit programs like the corporate recruitment done by Enterprise Florida as key reasons why the state has added more than 1.2 million private sector jobs since he was elected. But Corcoran and other House leaders say those programs betray their vision of the role of government. Corcoran has argued that the vast majority of businesses don't get tax breaks, so the state should not be handing them out to a select few.
That hard line against incentives makes the golf museum a curious outlier. It's located in St. Johns County, which is partly represented by Rep. Paul Renner, the Republican sponsor of the bill. He said the hall's location didn't influence his decision to preserve its tax credit.
When asked why the tax credit was left alone, Renner replied: "I don't know."
In a subsequent interview with the Times/Herald, Renner said the House did not want to disrupt existing deals with museums.