Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran swings hammer at gnat - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran swings hammer at gnat

House Speaker Richard Corcoran relishes the image of being a fierce protector of the public purse.

He does more than rail against what he considers frivolous spending of public dollars. He goes all in to stop it, often in a headline-grabbing way designed to let the people know he is their guy.

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While that does have a certain air of nobility and the public purse obviously needs a watchdog, it also can lead to actions that hurt the public he says he is trying to protect.

With that in mind, we refer you to the lawsuit he recently filed in the 13th Judicial Circuit Court against the city of Tampa for what he called an “illegal tax” imposed by hotel operators. It’s a $1.50 fee per night on hotel stays, which leaders in the industry say goes to market tourism for the area.

Corcoran’s lawsuit notes that the fee is collected “ … within an illegal district that is governed pursuant to an illegal interlocal agreement. The Speaker asks this Court to put a stop to the City of Tampa’s illegal acts and its ongoing encroachment of state legislative authority.”

We’ll pause here for the latest example of irony, Tallahassee style. This is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer on a gnat.

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State lawmakers routinely complain about interference from Washington, especially during the years President Obama was in charge. So why is it OK to butt in when city or county governments try to run their own affairs? This lawsuit is a major butt-in.

Charging hotel customers an extra buck-and-a-half a night certainly is not exorbitant and would seem like a good means to an end for the tourism industry. I can’t imagine anyone planning a trip to Tampa would call it off if they detected that surcharge, but, obviously, that isn’t Corcoran’s point.

Start with that whole “encroachment of state legislative authority” gambit. The Speaker seems to be all for home rule as he is the head of the household. The once-growing Florida film industry found that out when Corcoran used his bully pulpit to kill a state incentives program.

“It is a horrible, horrible use of taxpayers’ dollars, and there is no return on investment,” Corcoran told News4Jax.com.

“And as a person who is finally charged with protecting the taxpayers’ money, I’m not going to waste it by giving it to Hollywood producers. They can go elsewhere if they want to, but the reality is, Florida is Florida.”

No return? That’s debatable. The story cited a study by the University of West Florida that showed there was a return on the state’s investment: $1.44 coming back for every dollar in subsidy. But now filmmakers indeed do go elsewhere and likely will for the foreseeable future. The state of Georgia — which reaped the benefit of Florida’s film flight — thanks you very much.

Corcoran also had a much-publicized showdown with the state tourism industry last year over its budget and spending policies. He argued then for transparency in spending, which is another point he makes in his lawsuit against Tampa.

That would have a lot more bite if he hadn’t joined Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron in a behind-closed-doors meeting last spring to reach an $83 billion (with a B) deal on the state budget.

Corcoran did the public a big service when he used his position to challenge the spending habits of the tourism leaders (much to Gov. Scott’s dismay). No one who gets public money should be above serious scrutiny.

However, this latest legal maneuver can do nothing but hurt Tampa at a time when it is becoming increasingly competitive on a national scale. There is principle, and there is the kind of over-reach from a monolithic government that Tallahassee says it hates.

This lawsuit is the latter. Gnats beware.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. I covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. I also was the City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. I served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. I have numerous local, state and national writing awards. I have been married to my wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and have two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.
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