Tax breaks meant to fight blight making profits for theme parks - FOX 13 News

Tax breaks meant to fight blight making profits for theme parks

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Tax credits intended to improve blighted, high-crime areas continue to flow into theme parks and high-end resorts.

A state lawmaker's plan to revise the program failed in this year's legislative session.

"What they're doing is legal. But it isn't right," said State Senator Geraldine Thompson, (D) Orlando. "It never gets to the floor of the senate."

The program allows businesses to qualify for tax credits, for each new job created in a designated high-crime area that, according to the law:

Chronically exhibits extreme and unacceptable levels of poverty, unemployment, physical deterioration, and economic disinvestment

Is a blight on the community as a whole

Tarnishes the image and reputation of the community in the eyes of its residents

Reduces the desirability of the community as a place to visit and live

However, Senator Thompson said the high-crime area boundaries (as currently drawn) exclude many communities struggling with crime and blight, while businesses within Orlando's thriving tourist district are eligible to receive these credits.

Records show Universal Orlando's theme parks and resort hotels have received millions in credits over the past decade. Universal and other recipients are not doing anything wrong. They are receiving credits reviewed and approved by the state.

While Sen. Thompson sought to review the boundaries of the high-crime areas, our review of maps (provided to us by the state) show companies that appear to be outside the boundaries have also been approved for credits. That includes a Walmart store in Tampa.

"We applied for the tax credit and were advised by the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) that our store was located within the urban zone boundaries," said Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz. "Later we received a letter from the DEO (dated Jan. 24, 2014) certifying that we were eligible to receive the credit."

A Florida DEO spokeswoman told us it is the responsibility of local governments to verify applicants are within approved boundaries.

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