Accountable USA - Florida

Florida’s most commonly used economic development subsidy is the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund program, a refund of state corporate income taxes to businesses in industrial sectors such as aerospace, aviation, defense, and technology.  The most controversial program, however, is the Quick Action Closing Fund – a secretive discretionary fund used in both relocation and retention deals.  Its appropriation reached a high of $77 million in 2008 but has been reduced in subsequent years.  In 2008, Jabil Circuit headquarters was awarded a Quick Action grant of $12.4 million to remain in St. Petersburg (see below).

The state has also provided substantial sums of money through legislative action for specific deals.  The most notable instance was the $369 million deal presented to the Scripps Research Institute in 2003. Scripps also got hefty local subsidies from Palm Beach County (see below). More recently, the state legislature approved $471 million for Northrop Grumman.

State development officials in Florida rely heavily on local government units to subsidize large trophy projects.  The state will often make projects ineligible for state development subsidies unless local governments also chip in (usually in the form of tax exemptions or diversions).  For example, the majority of public funding used in the construction of the new Marlins baseball stadium in Miami came from the diversion of local tourism taxes (see below).  Localities also frequently employ tax increment financing (TIF), the primary finance mechanism used in the redevelopment of Miami’s popular South Beach area.

Despite its status as the “Sunshine State,” Florida has some critical shortcomings in its transparency practices.  First among these is the fact that deals executed by economic development agencies are exempted from the state’s public records law for two years.  And before deals are executed, businesses seeking subsidies are granted confidential status on the grounds that it is “proprietary business information.”  In some cases, state development officials do not even disclose the name of the company to the locality they are negotiating with for local money.  This practice of secrecy has serious implications for democratic processes and accountability of economic development programs.

For example, in July 2011 Hillsborough County agreed to provide $1.2 million in subsidies to an unnamed company to retain more than 1,500 jobs.  The company turned out to be PricewaterhouseCoopers, which had publicly declared that it had no intention of moving out of the state. After the controversy erupted, PwC withdrew its application for the subsidy.

In 2007 the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development (OTTED) began to post a list of subsidy contracts on the web for some programs. However, the information was removed from the web after the administration of Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011 and began the process of replacing the agency with a new Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). The state’s private economic development agency, Enterprise Florida (EFI), provided at that time limited information on subsidy recipients in its annual Incentives Report.

In 2013, DEO and EFI launched a new disclosure website called the Economic Development Incentives Portal. The Portal includes deals on several economic development subsidy programs administrated by the DEO but excludes programs administered by other agencies, like the Office of Film and Entertainment, Workforce Florida or the Division of Community Development.  The released information contributed to a growing controversy over poor job creation results from the state’s subsidy programs.

When the Portal was created, the Economic Development Transportation Fund lost its disclosure. In 2012, the Florida legislature moved administration of the program from DEO to the state Transportation Department and, as a consequence, EDTF was not included in the Portal and the EFI’s 2013 Annual Incentive Report no longer lists recipients for this program.

In 2014, the Florida legislature rejected a proposal to allocate additional money to a film tax credit program. The program had $296 million earmarked for spending between 2010 and 2016. However, by 2014 all the money had been used. In 2014, the legislature also passed a law requiring the Office of Economic and Demographic Research and the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to evaluate all economic development subsidy programs every three years.

In recent years, Florida also moved more aggressively to poach jobs from other states. During the summer of 2013, Gov. Scott sent letters to businesses in eight states telling the owners to move to the Sunshine state. In February 2015, the Governor announced “a domestic business development mission” trip to Philadelphia, PA.  

Key Subsidy Programs

Subsidy Program Recent Annual
Cost
Online Recipient
Disclosure
Recipient Disclosure
Score
Job-Creation/
Job-Quality Score**
Monitoring/
Enforcement Score***

Economic Development Transportation Fund

infrastructure assistance grants awarded to a local community to make improvements on behalf of a specific firm

$14.8 million (FY2012)
0/100
25/100
33/100

Enterprise Zone Program

longstanding EZ program provides property tax abatements, sales and use tax exemptions, and state income tax credits to firms locating into areas designated as economically distressed

$10.9 million (FY2012)
0/100
63/100
54/100

Film & Entertainment Incentive

sales and use tax exemption for film, commercial, music video and sound recording productions

$18.1 million (FY2012)
41/100
not included
not included

Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund

"deal closing" grant and multiple tax refund program for firms in targeted industries which meet job creation and wage requirements (subsidies vary by geographic area); used extensively

$58.1 million (FY2012)
57/100
66/100
61/100

Quick Action Closing Fund

secretive "deal-closing" fund awarding cash grants to major relocation projects

$28.4 million (FY2012)
62/100
66/100
63/100

* The score is derived from the Good Jobs First report Show Us the Subsidized Jobs (January 2014).

** The score is derived from the Good Jobs First report Money for Something (December 2011).

*** The score is derived from the Good Jobs First report Money-Back Guarantees for Taxpayers (January 2012).

Major Subsidy Deals

Jabil Circuit (2008)

In 2008, St. Petersburg-based Jabil Circuit extracted $34.4 million in subsidies from state, county and local development authorities for a new headquarters building. In exchange, the electronics company promised to invest $50 million in the site, create more than 800 new jobs with an average salary of $43,000 and maintain a minimum of 1,800 employees. The state provided most of the subsidies, totaling $20 million, including $12.4 million from the Quick Action Closing Fund. The city voted to provide $12.7 million and Pinellas County $1.7 million. Of the total, $15.5 million consisted of employment grants and $15.3 million went for roads and other infrastructure. Jabil Circuit had purchased the 94-acre site, near its current headquarters, for $13.4 million in the 1990s; in 2009 it was designated a brownfield under Florida state law.

Jabil got the deal after claiming it was being recruited by another state, but that was never publicly confirmed. Immediately after the deal closed, Jabil announced a 4 percent cut in its workforce due to poor economic conditions and fired some 400 St. Petersburg workers. In February 2009, with its stock near an all-time low, it asked the state for permission to delay the project. (Key sources)

Scripps Research Institute (2003)

 At the urging of Gov. Jeb Bush, state and local officials approved plans to spend $510 million to lure the San Diego-based, non-profit Scripps Research Institute to Florida’s Palm Beach County, where it promised to create 545 new jobs in eight years and 7,500 jobs in 15 years. A 100-acre campus was eventually located in the town of Jupiter with the main research facility on 30 acres owned by Florida Atlantic University. The deal, aspiring to start a biotech cluster, amounted to the state’s largest-ever corporate subsidy. Gov. Bush demanded a special session of the state legislature in October 2003 to approve the use of $310 million in federal funds to pay for Scripps' laboratory gear and the salaries of 575 of its employees for an eight-year period.

The federal funds came from grants to the states under the $20 billion federal Jobs and Growth Tax Reconciliation Act of 2003, from which Florida received $950 million. In addition, Palm Beach County issued $200 million in revenue bonds to fund land acquisition, a temporary research facility, and a permanent $140-million, 364,000-square-foot research center, which opened in February 2009. (Key sources)

Florida Marlins (2008)

Even before he bought the Florida Marlins Major League baseball team in 2002, Jeffrey Loria was lobbying for a publicly financed new stadium. Although the previous owner had also sought such funding, Miami officials remained cool to the idea. That changed after the Marlins made it to the World Series in 2003. Late that year, Loria reached a tentative deal with the city and Miami-Dade County for a $210 million public contribution toward the estimated $325 million cost of a retractable-roof stadium. That deal collapsed, and it took five years to revive it. In February 2008 local officials gave initial approval to a new plan under which tourism taxes would be used to finance about 70 percent of a $525 million stadium on the site of the Orange Bowl.

The deal was expedited when a circuit judge, rejecting a suit brought by auto dealer Norman Braman, ruled that the issue did not need to be put to a public referendum. In March 2009, both the city and Miami-Dade County gave final approval to what had become a $634 million stadium, to be financed with $297 million from tourist taxes, $50 million from a separate bond referendum and $12 million in road and utility funds. In 2010 documents came to light contradicting Loria’s long-time contention that the team was operating at a loss. The stadium, complete with two aquariums behind home plate, is scheduled to open in 2012. The team has changed its name to the Miami Marlins. In late 2011 it came to light that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating the financing of the stadium deal. (Key sources)

Walmart in Florida

  • At least 12 Wal-Mart locations have received subsidies worth about $59.2 million in Florida.
  • At least 10 Wal-Mart locations in Florida have challenged their property tax assessment, recouping about $118,000.
  • Wal-Mart was found to have more workers than any other employer in the state relying on publicly-funded health insurance. This shows how taxpayers end up subsidizing Wal-Mart’s policy of providing low wages and inadequate benefits.

For more information, see the Florida page of Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch.