Dominic Calabro – Florida Politics

Dominic Calabro

Dominic M. Calabro is President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Dominic Calabro: Florida pro-growth programs are wise investments

Florida’s economy, although robust, depends heavily on tourism, real estate development and financial industries.

As Florida’s economy rebounded from the Great Recession a few years ago, employment in low-paying industries such as tourism has grown at a faster rate than employment growth in higher-paying industries.

While any employment growth is good, we must be careful not to build our economy on the backs of Floridians with lower-paying jobs.

Florida officials continue to look for ways to stimulate economic growth and development and diversify the state’s economy. This has been made more challenging with the recent reduction in economic development incentive funding that, for years, was used to attract businesses to Florida and to create new higher-paying jobs.

As a result, the focus has shifted from attracting new businesses to Florida to growing existing Florida businesses from within. This is important since, overall, business and job growth in Florida is occurring in small businesses, those with fewer than 100 employees.

Given the decision to grow Florida’s economy from within, two existing programs have proven themselves worthy of the continued investment of state funds.

The first is GrowFL, which works with “second-stage” companies to help them connect with resources that will allow them to make better strategic decisions and have a larger positive impact on our economy. A second-stage company is a company that has survived the start-up phase and is now focused on growth, expansion and creating new jobs.

Growing second-stage companies will be critical going forward because they are now responsible for more than 30 percent of Florida jobs and more than one-third of Florida’s sales.

GrowFL works – over the next decade, GrowFL is projected to create more than 43,000 high-paying jobs and generate more than $4.6 billion in additional personal income for Floridians.

One would think the absence of a personal income tax, affordable land and labor, streamlined permitting processes, and a host of other pro-business tax policies and resources would attract manufacturing companies to Florida in droves, but they don’t.

Despite a business climate that is consistently ranked among the best in the U.S., manufacturing in Florida accounts for just over 5 percent of the total output in the state (gross state product) and employs just over 4 percent of the workforce.

This ranks Florida 45th among the 50 states and District of Columbia in terms of manufacturing’s contribution to the gross state product.

This is why programs like FloridaMakes, a statewide public-private partnership designed to improve the productivity and technological performance of Florida manufacturers, is so vital to growing our manufacturing sector. FloridaMakes functions as a network of statewide business associations and local providers to help small and medium-sized manufacturers grow their businesses through technology adoption and talent development.

FloridaMakes provides business advisors who work with client companies to assess their businesses, benchmark excellence and value, and identify opportunities and challenges for each client.

FloridaMakes works – the more than 100 manufacturers who have received services through FloridaMakes reported a combined total impact of $248 million.

This breaks down to $166 million in increased or retained sales, $25.5 million in cost savings, and $56.6 million in investments. More than 2,400 high-paying jobs have either been created or retained as a result of FloridaMakes.

The Legislature has made clear its preference to grow Florida’s economy from within.

If growing Florida’s economy from within is going to be the linchpin of our economic development program, then a continued public investment in programs like GrowFL and FloridaMakes would be a wise investment indeed.


Dominic Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Economic development incentives drive jobs to Florida, boost state economy

Shaping up to be one of the biggest battles in the Legislature in many years, the fight on economic development incentives and tourism funding has been swirling throughout the halls of the Capitol the last few weeks. On one side are those who believe that taxpayer dollars should not be used to entice businesses and tourists to Florida; the other side sees these programs as crucial for creating jobs and boosting our economy.

Having watched and safeguarded taxpayer dollars being spent and invested for nearly than 40 years, I am convinced by overwhelming evidence that these programs are essential components in the toolkit to grow the Sunshine State, but equally assured that proper oversight is as vital as the programs themselves.

Florida TaxWatch independent research – as well as analysis by the state’s economists – has shown that Florida’s economic development incentives that are targeted to specific industries and investments have generated positive return on investment by enticing qualifying businesses to bring high-wage jobs to the state and diversifying the state’s industry portfolio. These results boost the state economy, creating a rising tide and lifting up all boats in the process.

Our state’s economy continues to flourish with non-farm employment hitting a high of 8.4 million jobs and the unemployment rate averaging 4.8 percent throughout 2016. While many jobs are not directly created with incentives, we would not see the same level of success if we hadn’t implemented these programs. If Florida wants to continue to compete with the nation, it must have smart incentive programs that attract and expand high-wage jobs and entice companies that otherwise may not come to Florida.

Since all of our competitor states, as well as nearly every other state in the Union, use incentives, it would be a major detriment to Florida if we eliminated our economic development incentive programs. If our state was to just do away with incentives, we would be at a major economic disadvantage. This unilateral disarmament would significantly hurt our national and global perception of being open for business, discouraging capital investment, hurting our economy and resulting in fewer high-wage jobs.

We, as the taxpayers, through our elected leaders must commit to funding targeted and focused economic incentive programs that include protections for Florida taxpayers, in order to compete with other states. The fight in the Legislature is a valid debate over the importance of incentives and I agree that wasteful and inefficient spending of taxpayer dollars is foolish. But the reality – for better or for worse – is that incentives are needed to ensure and continue the growth of our state economy.

I strongly urge the Legislature to competitively fund our economic development incentive programs to ensure that Florida remains the top state to work and to live.


Dominic Calabro has been the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute & government watchdog, for more than 37 years.

Dominic Calabro: Keeping cigars in the Cigar City

Politicians talk repeatedly about doing things to help create jobs. But, sometimes, doing nothing is the best option. We hope that newly-elected lawmakers understand that less government intrusion is often the key to keeping the American Dream alive.

A great example is the 2009 “Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.” This innocuously named effort actually increased federal regulation in ways that even many of its supporters now regret.

The act gave the Food and Drug Administration the right to regulate all tobacco products, not just cigarettes. But bureaucracies tend to expand whenever they can and the agency soon extended its reach to premium cigars — a move that even the most liberal members of Congress said they never intended.

The result is a possible loss of jobs, the death of family-owned businesses and an unnecessary impediment to the American Dream.

A great example is the J.C. Newman’s Cigar Co. It is a classic “only in America” success story. Founded in 1895 in Ohio by an immigrant from Hungary, it is the nation’s oldest manufacturer of premium cigars.

In the 1950s, the business moved to Tampa, also known as Cigar City. What autos are to Detroit and movies are to Hollywood, cigars are the signature item in Tampa. The business flourished in this natural new home.

Cigars made by the 121-year-old family-run business are not marketed toward youth, nor are they used by younger consumers.

But the FDA, empowered to expand its reach without limit, has recently ruled that all cigar manufacturers must pay exorbitant “user fees,” undergo costly scientific tests that could run into the millions of dollars, fulfill new loads of paperwork and are now essentially prohibited from introducing new sizes, brands and blends. Samples provided for charity auctions or soldiers overseas are no longer allowed. And in a cruelly concurrent move, the federal government recently ruled that Cuban cigars will not only be allowed for sale in the United States, but they won’t have to meet the new requirements for American-made cigars.

The overall result is not an increase in consumer safety, but a potential death knell for companies like J.C. Newman’s.

The company has more than 125 employees in the Tampa Bay area, hardworking families with mortgages to pay and children to feed. Strangling their livelihood with no increase in consumer safety is ludicrous.

Thankfully, led by Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate and Bill Posey and Kathy Castor in the U.S. House, there has been bipartisan support from Florida’s legislative delegation to eliminate the job-killing provisions for premium cigar manufacturers. The conservative House Freedom Caucus has also presented President-elect Donald Trump with more than 200 regulations that could be immediately eliminated to help working Americans, including the job-killing provisions on premium cigars.

We hope the new administration and the FDA find the proper balance and remove this requirement that benefits nobody. And we hope that this classic example of unnecessary regulations strangling businesses becomes a warning against well-meaning mandates that too often spiral out of control.


Dominic Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Dominic Calabro: College football is a touchdown for Florida’s local and state economies


It is Hurricane season in Florida. And Seminole season. And it’s also the season for the Gators and Rattlers and Bulls and many others. After a long hot summer, Floridians are eagerly awaiting the return of college football.

Not only is college football great for the fans, but it is also a boon for communities and the state’s economy. College football fans visit cities across Florida from all over the state and even the country to see their favorite team play. The influx of visitors boosts the local economy, spending money on lodging, food, memorabilia and transportation in a post-summer shift in tourism.

Florida TaxWatch reported that when Florida State won their third National Championship in 2013-14 season, even bottom-tier games generated $1.5 million in economic revenue for the Tallahassee area each weekend. The top-level games generated more than $10 million per weekend. In 2012, the University of Florida football team generated close to $75 million in revenue for the school, according to the same TaxWatch report.

While there may be debate over the role of athletics in the mission of institutions of higher education, there is no denying that college football has a great impact on state and local economies with studies finding that sales tax revenue increases statewide during college football season.

And while our college teams perform with the nation’s best during the season, the success continues in December and January. Florida leads the country in the number of bowl games played in state and will be hosting the national championship this season at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Bowl games generate millions of dollars for the state in sales tax revenue and showcase our state’s spot as one of the world’s top tourist destination.

While Florida State, Miami and the University of Florida are traditional powers, the economic score is going to increase as the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida assert themselves on the national stage. Even teams with smaller fan bases like the Florida Atlantic University Owls and the Florida International University Panthers are generating bigger crowds and more excitement.

Whether you’re a rabid fan or can’t tell a field goal from a touchdown, we are all winners this football season.


Dominic Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Dominic Calabro: Remember to thank principals too during the first week back to school

calabroFor millions of parents and students this month around the Sunshine State, one of the most exciting parts of returning to school is meeting the teachers. And for good reason; teachers will spend 180 days helping students learn and grow as one of the primary influences, besides parents and family, in each child’s life.

But as you settle into the new school year routine, we hope you will take some time to share your appreciation and support for each school’s principal. More than you may realize, effective principals have a crucial role in each student’s progress and success.

Principals must wear many hats. They are effective managers, making sure each teacher is comfortable in their role and offering support and encouragement during the long school year.

They are role models. Students look up to principals as the leaders of their school and the ultimate authority figure among hundreds of children and adults.

They are the face of the school to the public and school administration. If anyone – from a parent or PTA member to school board or district official – has any questions or comments about a school, the principal is the primary contact and must handle the queries with a smile and diligence.

Ultimately, each principal is responsible for the success and safety of every child attending their school. It is an awesome responsibility.

For these reasons and many more, Florida TaxWatch is proud to have established the Principal Leadership Awards program in 2014 to identify Florida’s most effective principals in K-12 public schools.

In keeping with TaxWatch’s role as a nonprofit, research-focused watchdog for Florida’s taxpayers, this awards program is Florida’s only data-driven principal recognition initiative. Recognition is based on analysis of student achievement gains in reading and mathematics in schools that have high percentages of students with disabilities, students designated as English as a Second Language learners, and those eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Each principal recognized is making a difference in their school, their community, and the education of Florida’s next generation. Their leadership can truly transform the future of so many children and our entire state.

Please join us in thanking every principal for the incredible work they do every day.

For more information on the Florida TaxWatch Principal Leadership Initiative, please go to


Dominic Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Dominic Calabro: Sales tax holidays — a Florida tradition and boon to taxpayers, businesses

calabroFew legislative decisions have been as wildly popular as Florida’s “sales tax holidays.” They have become more than just a tax break. They are a traditional back-to-school event that families plan for, neighbors talk about and businesses promote.

This year’s back-to-school sales tax holiday — from Aug. 5 through 7 — is shorter than last year and does not exempt from taxes some items previously included, such as computers.

But few tax breaks generate such excitement among taxpayers while stimulating business activity with increased advertising and competition.

Florida was among the first states in the nation to create what was called the “Florida Residents’ Tax Relief Act” in 1998. Support for renewal has been nearly unanimous among lawmakers. In some years, separate holidays were created for hurricane preparation supplies and energy efficient appliances; in other years, such as during the Great Recession, lawmakers paused the holidays due to financial constraints.

Some back-to-school holidays were as long as 10 days, spanning two weekends. That has led to some perception that this year’s version is somehow less valuable. There also are claims the tax break does nothing to stimulate the economy and only shifts spending to different time periods.

This is a unique chance for taxpayers to choose whether to take advantage of a tax break. And the benefits for businesses are evident by the incredible promotion and hoopla surrounding the event. Were there no benefit to businesses, it is unlikely we would see such celebration and investment in advertising from establishments big and small.

Economic arguments aside, few tax breaks resonate more with Floridians while providing a brief lesson in how we pay our taxes. Few Floridians noticed a hike, and then a cut, in their vehicle registration fees over the past few years. Nor is it likely consumers noticed last year’s modest cut in taxes on services like cell phones and cable TV.

But the sales tax holiday provides savings Floridians actually consider and discuss. Appropriately for the kick-off of the school year, it’s a teachable moment about how the sales tax affects us in our everyday purchases.


Dominic Calabro is the President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Dominic Calabro: Florida legislators must commit to transparency and accountability in the budgeting process

July 1 marked the first day of Florida’s 2016-17 fiscal year with the new $82.3 billion budget and 159 laws going into effect.

The budget, the largest in Florida history, funds all types of services for Floridians, ranging from education and health care to state parks and court renovations.

Passing a state budget is required by the Florida Constitution and involves extremely difficult decisions. Still, it is imperative that our elected officials exercise accountability and transparency in the budgeting process. The hardworking taxpayers of Florida rightfully expect that lawmakers will thoroughly vet all appropriations before adding them to the budget.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

During the 2015 Special Session, 189 local projects worth $167 million made it into the budget without deliberation during the conference portion of the budget process. These “budget turkeys” comprise a small amount of the total budget; however, circumventing the vetting process and sneaking projects into the budget is not a responsible way to allocate taxpayer funds.

It is imperative that legislators hear the concerns of Floridians and ensure that these projects are no longer added during conference without first being subject to thoughtful deliberation by all members of the Legislature.

Recently, some lawmakers have started to come around, with a few key legislators stating that they would like to see a more transparent budgeting process where member projects are scrutinized appropriately. Despite this, 143 budget turkeys worth $104.9 million made it into this fiscal year’s budget. While this is lower than in 2015, there is still more to be done to bring more accountability and transparency in the budget process.

Floridians and groups like Florida TaxWatch must remain diligent and continue to hold their lawmakers accountable about member projects making their way into the budget without any debate. Projects that circumvent an open and honest budget process must be brought to light and Floridians can voice their concerns about this issue by contacting their local representatives.

As we begin Florida’s 2016-17 fiscal year, I call on all legislators to consider ways to improve the budget process to ensure that all projects are thoroughly scrutinized before being added to the final budget.

All lawmakers should commit themselves to working to bring a more accountable and transparent budgeting process to the Sunshine State’s capitol.


Dominic M. Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Dominic M. Calabro: Take time to remember sacrifices of soldiers on Memorial Day

I remember my Dad telling me stories of World War II when I was a kid. He told me about his friends who died to preserve the American way of life and to rid the world of a madman. Stories like my Dad’s remind me that nothing in our life in America comes without a price. Men and women of all backgrounds fought and died because they took an oath to defend their country from those who wished to harm it.

My Dad and I participated in the Tallahassee Honor Flight in 2013. It was an honor to accompany my Dad on this journey to meet his fellow veterans and visit the World War II Memorial. I began thinking about all those men who died fighting in that war. Every country has men that will die for their country. But these men didn’t just die for the United States. They died for an idea; an idea of American exceptionalism in a dark world, built on the foundation of a constitutional republic that protects the rights of all its citizens.

That is why on Memorial Day we honor our brave soldiers who died in the line of duty.

Many will spend Memorial Day relaxing from work. Others will celebrate the beginning of summer with hot dogs and swimming trunks. But take some time out of your day to remember our fallen soldiers. Attend a local Memorial Day ceremony. Volunteer with local veterans’ groups. Learn about a local soldier who passed away during battle. Keeping their memories alive is how we can ensure that their sacrifice did not go in vain.

I’m proud to be the son of a veteran and I’m sure many in our great state are proud of all of our Florida-born soldiers and all of their sacrifices. We should be glad that we live in a state that has taken steps to help our veterans and has given them expanded educational and professional opportunities to succeed in civilian life. Our commitment to our veterans honors the memories of those we lost and never will forget.

To all those who have fought and continue to fight for American freedom, thank you.


Dominic M. Calabro is President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Dominic Calabro: Florida’s state workers are a valuable part of the state’s daily life

From matters of life and death to the future of our economy, state workers play critical roles in making our state the best in the nation to learn, to work and to live.

Whether it’s protecting the state’s most vulnerable children from abuse, making sure our colleges and universities are preparing Florida for the future, or planning for smart and efficient use of our taxpayers’ money, state workers are silent heroes in helping our state move forward.

For nearly 30 years, Florida TaxWatch has been the state’s top independent watchdog of government. That’s why we are proud to celebrate state employees who diligently create ingenious and innovative solutions to improve services and ensure that taxpayers are receiving the best return on their tax dollars.

Florida TaxWatch recognizes the challenges our hard-working state employees face every year through the Prudential Productivity Awards program. In 2015, 850 individuals and teams were honored with a Prudential Productivity Award for their tremendous efforts in their careers.

This year, 605 will be recognized. These award-winning state employees are truly making a difference for all Florida families.

Prudential Productivity Award winners are encouraged to work with other agencies to implement their cost savings ideas across state government. Since 1989, thousands of individuals, teams, work units and partnerships have produced nearly $9 billion worth of added value as a direct result of award winners’ achievements and the replication of those achievements.

Over the program’s 27-year history, Florida TaxWatch has discovered more inter-agency cooperation and increased teamwork among award winners to bring savings to Floridians.

Prudential Productivity Award winners are merely a handful of the thousands of outstanding state employees who serve Floridians. These incredible public servants have committed themselves to building a better Florida, one that makes the state a great place to live, raise a family and retire. It is time we committed to them.

For more on the Prudential Productivity Awards, please click here.


Dominic Calabro is the President & CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s premier taxpayer watchdog for more than 35 years. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Dominic Calabro: Floridians’ tax burden is less than in many other states

In mid-April every year, Americans take a quote from Benjamin Franklin to heart and to the bank.

He said that “nothing in life can be certain except death and taxes.”

At the federal, state and local level, Americans are subjected to various taxes that chip away at their paychecks. While Floridians enjoy one of the least burdensome state tax systems, local and federal taxes still take a toll on their wallets. What they don’t know is just how much of their time is devoted to paying their tax bill.

Florida TaxWatch research has found that, assuming the average eight-hour workday, the average Floridian must work one hour and 41 minutes of the eight-hour workday to pay off his or her daily federal tax burden. To pay off their state tax burden, they need to work an additional 24 minutes and 19 minutes is needed for local tax obligations. Overall, the average Floridian works two hours and 24 minutes every day of the year just to pay all his or her taxes.

This is why we celebrate Taxpayer Independence Day on April 20, the first day in the calendar year that Florida taxpayers, on average, begin earning income that does not go toward federal, state and local taxes. This symbolic day puts taxpayers’ responsibility in perspective, showing us how much of a presence government has in our lives.

Taxes are necessary to pay for services, but they make up a large portion of Americans’ expenses. In fact, the largest expense in the average Floridian’s life is taxes, more than food, housing and clothing combined.

While it still takes about 110 days, or just under a third of year, for Floridians to pay their tax bill, residents still enjoy their independence from taxes sooner than most Americans.

Florida workers will pay off their tax bill sooner than people in 21 other states and three days before the national Taxpayer Independence Day, based on calculations by the Tax Foundation. Residents in states like California and New York will have to work longer than Floridians to pay off their tax burden because of higher state and local taxes.

However, Taxpayer Independence Day is still later than it was just four years ago. In 2012, Taxpayer Independence Day was on April 9. This is the first year since 2011 that taxpayers didn’t have to work longer than the year before to pay their tax bill. That’s mainly because personal incomes grew. As the federal government increases taxes, it is entirely possible that Floridians will celebrate Taxpayer Independence Day later in the year in 2017.

Here in Florida we’re fortunate to have great public servants dedicated to promoting smart tax reform, cutting taxes when it makes sense. In the last few years alone, the state Legislature has cut the communications service tax, the sales tax on manufacturing equipment and various other taxes. Florida is lucky to have a tax climate that stimulates business growth and keeps money in the pockets of hard-working families.

For the full TaxWatch analysis on Taxpayer Independence Day, click here.

For more on how Florida’s tax burden stacks up against the rest of the nation, read Florida TaxWatch’s How Florida Compares: Taxes.


Dominic Calabro is the President & CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s premier taxpayer watchdog for more than 35 years. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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