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House targets 23 'flawed' incentives for permanent elimination

The suddenly endangered Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida are getting all the attention, but a House plan to overhaul state economic development programs would wipe 23 specific incentives off the books.

The House bill is an assault on Gov. Rick Scott's taxpayer-funded tool kit to attract jobs, and a House analysis says the incentives FullSizeRender(10) Scott supports are "impediments to normal market forces, operating in a manner where government selects winners and losers."

One incentive on the House chopping block is the Urban High-Crime Area Job Credit, with tax breaks to businesses that create jobs in areas of high crime and poverty. Corporate giants Publix, Walmart and Universal have benefited from it, and Miami-Dade has three job credit pockets, the most of any county.

Through 2012, the state awarded $21.9 million in such tax credits to businesses in 13 areas, including Tampa, St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The bulk of the credits, about $10.6 million, went to Orlando, where Universal Studios got a tax break for a Harry Potter attraction, the Orlando Sentinel reported, and Publix and Walmart got tax breaks for distribution centers.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, considers the incentives corporate welfare and wants to repeal them, saving about $160 million in appropriations and $86 million in tax credits based on the current budget. Nineteen other incentives would survive, including Space Florida, Black Business Investment Board, Hispanic Business Initiative and a rural job tax credit program.

In advance of Wednesday's hearing by the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee, a staff report cites "flawed statutory design" and "flawed administration" of the urban tax credit, with "overly lenient parameters for defining tax credit areas" and low or unmeasurable rates of return on investment, a metric often cited by Scott. The report concludes: "Repeal is the most appropriate course of action."

Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida would become parts of the Department of Economic Opportunity and would lose tax money. Other incentives targeted for elimination by the House are four tax rebates for pro sports franchises and eight incentives touted by Scott as necessary in the competition to lure jobs to Florida, such as the Quick Action Closing Fund. But the House sees little value and the report says six of every 10 approved incentive awards "do not result in successful projects -- they are either terminated, vacated, withdrawn or inactivated."