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Watchdog group: Florida government engaged in corporate welfare

A government watchdog group and Americans for Prosperity blasted Florida’s government for the hundreds of millions of dollars it gives to corporations, stating the state’s jobs agency is engaged in “pay-to-play” and “corporate welfare.”

A new report by Integrity Florida and Koch-brother funded Americans for Prosperity highlights several problems with the state’s economic incentives program, which uses tax deals to bring companies to Florida.

“We’re concerned about the appearance of pay-to-play ,” said Dan Krassner, director of Integrity Florida.

Among the report’s findings:

- Enterprise Florida has failed to meet its job creation objectives, with companies creating only 103,544 jobs after receiving tax breaks, less than the 200,000 envisioned by the Legislature in 1992 when EFI was created.

- Enterprise Florida has failed to get 50 percent funding from the private sector, instead relying on 85-percent taxpayer funding to support the public-private partnership

- Enterprise Florida has “the appearance of pay-to-play,” since it receives an average of $50,000 from some of its corporate board members. Those board members also get private contracts to do work on EFI’s behalf as well as tax break deals processed by EFI.

 Slade O’Brien, Florida director of Americans for Prosperity , said Florida’s practice of doling out economic incentives amounts to government manipulation of the free marketplace.

“What's wrong here is the policy that’s in place,” he said. “Too often, we create winners and losers.” 

Martin Dyckman, a former St. Petersburg Times editor and a board member at Integrity Florida, resigned after finding out that the report was funded by Americans for Prosperity.

Krassner and O’Brien brushed aside any concerns, stating that Integrity Florida puts all of its funders on its website.

 Several bills in the Florida House and Senate seek to crack down on Enterprise Florida and the economic incentives program. A bill voted out of committee Thursday morning would make Enterprise Florida submit to a slew of new transparency measures moving forward.

Enterprise Florida responded to what it called “troubling accusations” in the report  by sending legislative leaders a lengthy letter about the virtues of its operation.

“Through the legislation that you supported two short years ago, Florida now has a seamless economic development team focused on creating jobs for Florida families, increasing capital investment in our communities and providing a significant return on the investment made by the state’s taxpayers,” the company's board wrote. See the full letter, which was sent out by Gov. Rick Scott's office, here.

Scott has pitched for more than $297 million in economic incentives in his budget for the next fiscal year.