Most of us have heard the old adage, 'It takes money to make money.' In Florida, some leaders in state government also believe it takes money to make jobs.
Governor Rick Scott has made it clear that job creation is a top priority, but are lucrative corporate incentives really necessary or nothing more than corporate welfare?
Enterprise Florida is in the business is identifying companies looking for help. The non-profit works hand in hand with The Department of Economic Opportunity and over the years has given out more than $300-million in incentives to companies looking to relocate or expand.
Read Enterprise Florida's 2011 tax return: http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/link/615265/enterprise-floridas-form-990
In exchange, the companies promise good jobs to fuel and grow Florida's economy.
"We know for a fact that these companies, if it was not for the use of our program and work, they would have located somewhere else and these jobs would be in other states and not ours," said Gray Swoope, CEO of Enterprise Florida.
In 2012, Enterprise Florida promised $72 million in incentives and signed 122 contracts in exchange for the promise of about 13,500 new jobs.
"It's my opinion, and the opinion of some of my collages, that the jobs would have been created with or without Enterprise Florida," said state Representative Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
Fasano remembers back in the mid 1990's when the idea was born and he has watched incentives grow rapidly over the years.
"I probably voted for legislation that allowed that to happen along the way, but I've come to realize that government shouldn't be involved in picking winners and losers."
Incentive packages have come under fire from Integrity Florida, a non-partisan, non-profit research group in Tallahassee whose mission is to promote integrity and expose public corruption. The group, working with Americans for Prosperity Florida, spent months analyzing the data.
"There is so much secrecy going on at this agency that legislators are demanding more transparency and accountability," said executive director Dan Krassner.
Krassner divided the companies into winners and losers and shared his research with us before he'll make it public later this week.
"We see Coca-Cola was a winner; loser, Pepsi. Winner, Magic Wok; loser Panda Express. Winner, HBO; Showtime is a loser," Krassner said, reading from his research report.
Another winner: Miller Beer and Miller Light. In exchange for the promise of incentives valued at $145,000, the company would build a new Latin American headquarters in Miami-Dade County creating a projected 70 new jobs.
"The companies that are getting money are playing by the rules, and these are all good companies, but why is state government choosing Miller vs. Budweiser or made in Florida beer?"
Krassner also says Publix and Winn-Dixie received incentives, while Sweetbay did not.
"I think it's right for the public to ask, 'Is it government's role to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, to give taxpayer money to one company versus its competitors?" continued Krassner.
He pointed to a deal in 2011 where Walmart was promised $780,000 to create 390 jobs.
"It doesn't take $500,000 or $1-million to encourage a multi-billion-dollar company like Walmart to expand and grow in the state of Florida," added Fasano. "This has to stop."
But Gray Swoope, CEO of Enterprise Florida, says the money makes a difference. He points to a deal a few years ago involving Time-Warner.
"They could have added jobs in Atlanta," he recalled. "We worked with them and we're able to win it for the Tampa Bay area."
State Representative Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, chairs a committee which is taking a closer look at the way the state does business. Are lucrative corporate incentives necessary?
"I think that's the purpose of the next three or four weeks, to find out that answer to that question," said Hooper. "We need to be sure that every dollar that is spent, is spent wisely."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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