In 2012, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan went on a personal crusade to convince Bass Pro Shops to build a store in Brandon.
Hagan’s aim was to create jobs as the county struggled to recover from the Great Recession. He proposed an “incentive” package that was about $15 million of taxpayer money, arguing that it was the cost of doing business with a company like that.
Many people disagreed. They screamed. They howled. They complained that giving a Death Star-like Bass Pro public money to open shop forced small outdoor businesses to subsidize a multibillion-dollar corporation that could run them into bankruptcy.
Eventually, the incentive package was winnowed way down to some infrastructure improvements. Bass Pro came anyway. It seems to be thriving in its Brandon location.
I mention this in the context of the now-public feud between Gov. Rick Scott and Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the governor’s signature issue — jobs.
Scott has repeatedly shown he is a true believer in offering tax and other incentives to lure business to Florida. Corcoran guards the public bank account like a hungry pit bull, which is apropos because one of Corcoran’s targets was Visit Florida — the state’s tourism promotional arm that paid rapper Pitbull $1 million to tout our glory.
Scott built $85 million into his budget proposal for business incentives. Corcoran has dismissed that as corporate welfare and will have none of it.
I think Corcoran’s aim is more on target. Hillsborough’s experience with Bass Pro is proof.
Big businesses do create jobs, yes, but they also exist to make money. They will go to places where they can do that. Florida, now the third-largest state in the nation, is fertile ground for any company that wants to turn a profit.
But with the assumption that Scott will run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, the ability to “create” jobs seems to be his singular mission. There are about 1 million more jobs now in the state than when Scott took office in 2010. When you peel back the layers, though, the picture isn’t quite as bright.
As FloridaPolitics.com reported, the nonpartisan Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability studied eight state incentive programs and found that most of the money went to existing Florida companies that have more than 1,000 employees.
It also found that many of the companies receiving grants from the Innovation Incentive Program failed to hit their marks.
That underscores the notion that these are little more than giveaways that companies that shouldn’t be receiving tax dollars.
Scott tried to turn the tables from his own ambition, questioning what Corcoran has to gain politically. While the Speaker has been quiet about his plans, many wonder if a run for governor in 2018 could be part of his game plan.
“What else could it be,” Scott told reporters during a gaggle Tuesday in Tallahassee.
Well, just spit-balling here, it could be the idea that giving millions of tax dollars to companies who, like Bass Pro, might come here anyway is ethically and morally wrong. From what I can tell by watching and listening to Corcoran, this is not a position he adopted last week because it looks good politically. He really believes that spending needs to be scrutinized and minimized.
I would add that any company needing an “incentive” beyond Florida’s obvious strengths to do business here is probably not a company we need. But that’s just me.