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Economic Incentives To Come Under Scrutiny

Are Florida’s economic incentives really working to bring jobs and businesses to the state? That’s what lawmakers asked Department of Economic Opportunity leaders during a Thursday committee meeting.

Last year lawmakers agreed the state should create a website that would track economic incentives offered by the Florida government. It was an effort to make those overtures more transparent and to help officials get a better look at whether those incentives are really working. But during Thursday’s Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development appropriations meeting Senator Eleanor Sobel, a Democrat from Hollywood, said the websites leaves something to be desired.

“I went to the website and I saw these ovals that I had to fill in the name of the business and where it was located. And I don’t know where all the economic incentives…I can’t imagine if someone else wanted to use it. I didn’t find it very user friendly,” Sobel said.

Department of Economic Opportunity Strategic Development Director Michelle Dennard said  the website is searchable.

“It is searchable by program, by approval time, and by a couple of other searchable factors,” Dennard said.

But Sobel said even if the website were more user-friendly, she has her doubts the incentives Florida is offering are working. And Senator Jeremy Ring, a Democrat from Margate echoed those concerns. Ring said it might be time to re-work the state’s entire economic incentive program.

“We should not at all consider any of the numbers that are being asked for until we do that,” Ring said.

On the other hand Republican Senator Tom Lee said  he’d like to know why some say the system is broken.

“Clearly there’s some concern here about whether or not economic development incentives have worked and maybe it’s not for today, but I’m just curious as somebody who hasn’t been around here for awhile, what kinds of things are perceived to be broken?”

And Department of Economic Opportunity officials said they’re working to ensure the tax payer dollars used for those incentives are spent as efficiently as possible. It’s an issue committee chair Andy Gardiner said the group will be looking into carefully as the committee meets. Committee members also heard from several other department heads, including the department of transportation and department of state.   

For more news updates, follow Regan McCarthy on twitter @Regan_McCarthy