House advances bill to eliminate Enterprise Florida

'It often becomes a structure where cities and states are competing with one another not based on quality of life but just based on incentives.'

A bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida (EFI), a public-private group that recruits businesses to expand or move to the state, passed through a House committee despite concerns over the bill’s constitutionality, the ability of a state agency to handle its work and a tax break for the film industry that would also be axed.

“The bill reduces government waste and streamlines the economic development efforts of the entire state,” said Rep. Tiffany Esposito, a Fort Myers Republican and sponsor of HB 5.

The bill passed on a 16-6 vote, with Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando the only Democrat to join Republicans in favor of it.

But some Republicans who voted for it said they had issues about whether the bill is unconstitutional because some of the tax credit programs it eliminates could constitute a tax increase, and the state constitution requires any tax increase to be a standalone bill.

Some also expressed skepticism that the Department of Economic Opportunity, the agency that oversees EFI, could handle the duties being transferred directly under them as part of the measure.

“I’m wondering if (DEO) can really handle the job,” said Mike Caruso, a Delray Beach Republican. “I’m also concerned about the constitutionality of the way the bill is presented today. I’m surprised that it’s coming here before us in this fashion.”

Esposito said some of the tax credit programs would be taken out of the bill at the next committee hearing.

Democrats voiced similar concerns but also focused on the bill’s elimination of a program giving entertainment industry productions — films, television, music videos and others — a break on sales taxes on goods related to the production.

Supporters of the bill, however, said it was a good step toward removing incentive programs that were already defunct, offer a negative return on investment for the state or just weren’t working to bring in businesses, who were already attracted by Florida’s low tax, business friendly environment.

“It often becomes a structure where cities and states are competing with one another not based on quality of life but just based on incentives,” Eskamani said.

The bill next heads to the House Appropriations Committee. It doesn’t have a Senate companion measure but Esposito said she’s hopeful a bill will emerge from that chamber in the next two weeks.

Gray Rohrer


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