TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Saying business incentives are needed in limited situations, the Florida Chamber of Commerce offered support Thursday for Gov. Rick Scott's controversial proposal to set aside $85 million for incentives next year.
Scott's proposal to provide the money to the public-private Enterprise Florida faces adamant opposition from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, and other House Republican leaders.
But during a news conference Thursday to release legislative priorities for the upcoming session, Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson said the business group "fully" supports Scott's proposal. Wilson said more than 90 percent of jobs are created in Florida without the use of incentives but that limited use of such money is needed to compete for "high-wage, high-skill jobs."
"When we helped create Enterprise Florida in the mid-'90s, 20 years ago, the intent then and the intent now is that incentives and marketing dollars are incredibly important and incentives should rarely be used," said Wilson, a member of the Enterprise Florida board. "But, when they are appropriate, they are the difference maker."
Incentives could become one of the highest-profile issues of the 2017 legislative session, with Corcoran describing such programs as "corporate welfare." Along with money for Enterprise Florida, Corcoran also has targeted tax dollars that go for tourism marketing by the public-private Visit Florida.
A House subcommittee on Wednesday began delving into the incentives issue and heard from newly appointed Enterprise Florida President Chris Hart, along with skeptics of incentives.
One of those skeptics, Florida State University economics professor Shawn Kantor, said he's not convinced business incentives provide the desired benefits.
"They're inherently unfair," Kantor said. "You have some of your constituents working really hard, they've been building their businesses, and they've been doing it for decades, and then you're dangling a carrot to a new business, who's just going to grab that gold ring at the very last minute, when your constituents are standing there paying the bill for it."
The incentives debate will play out during the legislative session that starts March 7. The Florida Chamber news conference Thursday drew senators and House members, along with business executives from various parts of the state.
Along with supporting Scott on the incentives issue, the influential business group also discussed several other priorities for the session, including changes to the workers' compensation insurance system.
State regulators in October approved a 14.5 percent increase in workers' compensation insurance rates, primarily because of two Florida Supreme Court decisions that found parts of the workers' compensation system unconstitutional. The biggest effect on rates came from a decision that tossed out limits on attorneys' fees in workers' compensation cases.
The Florida Chamber created a task force that has studied options for changes in the system to hold down rates. David Hart, the group's executive vice president, said that work has included looking at workers' compensation systems in other states.
News Service assignment manager Tom Urban and reporter Jim Turner contributed to this report.