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Team Scott pushes back on tax incentives for businesses

One of Gov. Rick Scott's top economic development officers this morning refused to characterize the state's tax incentive programs that data shows are creating just one of every three jobs that companies promise.

Gray Swoope, Scott's handpicked Enterprise Florida CEO cautioned against making broad judgments about the incentive programs by looking at a database of more than 1,500 projects and instead said the programs should be judged individually and on a contract-by-contract basis.

"Incentives will never make a bad deal good," Swoope said. "It will only make a good deal better."

A Department of Economic Opportunity database shows incentives from 11 different funds, all of which have different objectives, Swoope said. Some funds, such as the Quick Action Closing Fund, are meant to have immediate impact on job creation or retention, he said. Others are supposed to create long-term impact need given decades to work.

Swoope said the trouble with Florida's incentive funds has been a confusing process where too many agencies controlled different funds. "It's the process," Swoope said.

To address that issues, lawmakers this year created the Department of Economic Opportunity for Scott and almost $100 million in incentives. Records show the state has entered into deals with at least 67 companies in the past year, most under Scott's watch.

But lawmakers gave Scott those tools after stressing the importance of making a return on the taxpayers' investment. Sen. Don Gaetz said Monday that if companies aren't making good on their promises, they should return the state's money.

Swoope said the state gets a return on its investment even if the company only creates a fraction of the jobs it intended, because most of the contracts only pay out as companies meet certain goal.

"If you don't perform, you receive nothing," Swoope said. "It's very clear."

At least one fund pays companies before any jobs are created. There are at least six companies that have been paid more than $35 million but not produced their promised jobs. The Times/Herald was told that the state could take action against companies not meeting the goals in their contracts. But Swoope said this morning that those companies approached the state about regotiating their contracts to allow for more time.

"There are good procedures in place that protect the state," Swoope said.