Tallahassee, FL – An economic development proposal, also known as the Jobs for Florida bill, was taken up by the Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means Thursday. Gina Jordan tells us the measure won't be cheap, but supporters say it will cost the state a lot more if lawmakers do nothing to lure businesses and boost job creation.
Senator Don Gaetz presented the bill to the Ways and Means Committee, calling it a 14-point economic policy package. It starts with removing tax disincentives that send people out of state to buy and have maintenance done on boats and aircraft.
"Secondly, (it creates) a tax incentive for small and large businesses to hire unemployed Floridians. Third, to accelerate tax credits for capital intensive industries in return for making major investments in our state and adding new high paying jobs."
The measure seeks to improve the competitiveness of Florida's ports by granting tax credits in return for job creation. It would extend tax credits to first time home buyers and finance new and expanded space-related businesses while re-training workers in the expiring shuttle program.
"It changes the film incentive from up-front cash to a retrospective tax credit, doubles the amount of the credit from ten to twenty million, expands the credit to encompass the digital media industry, which provides permanent good paying jobs from Florida companies that stay in Florida."
The provision had drawn scrutiny regarding language that said certain credits would be available only for family friendly productions, but that wording was removed. Gaetz told the committee that the fiscal impact of the bill, $187-million over three years, does not take into account any return on investment. Senator Frederica Wilson wanted to know about one provision in particular.
"Senator Gaetz, how can we justify this significant, this huge tax break in these hard times for the sale of extremely expensive airplanes and yachts?"
Gaetz replied that the impact would be $9.3-million for that industry.
"The issue is not whether or we not we like to have people buy airplanes and boats. The issue is whether or not we'd like them to be purchased in Florida, refitted in Florida, maintained in Florida and kept in Florida."
The jobs measure had six amendments, all of which were adopted, but not without some confusion from Senator Evelyn Lynn, who called it a very huge bill.
"It takes a long time to go through and really understand every section, and I've tried to do that and I think many others have. But I want to make sure, we're not even hearing the numbers of the amendments, and I want to make sure we hear it. And there are so many diverse topics in this bill; it's very hard to keep up. And I think we all want to know that if we vote one way or the other, we're doing it for the right reasons."
Some of the provisions in the bill are the result of a jobs summit held in Orlando in January. Some came from an analysis of effective job development policies in other states. In public testimony, Karen Woodall with the Coalition for Fair and Comprehensive Tax Reform expressed concern about the drain on general revenue.
"The problem being that 75-percent of our budget, as you know, comes from sales tax. And it seems like, and a number of us have been urging that we repeal some of the existing exemptions, and we come in every year and we're just giving away more revenue."
The bill is sponsored in part by members of the Senate Select Committee on Florida's Economy, which was formed by Senate President Jeff Atwater to propose legislation that will create incentives and eliminate impediments to economic recovery and growth. Gabe Sheehan with the Florida Chamber of Commerce called it a robust and strong jobs bill.
"Many of the items addressed in the bill are incentives for businesses that are in the state's qualified targeted industries, so these are businesses that are poised for growth and can help produce high tech, high wage jobs."
Many of the public comments were regarding the provision that would reduce the amount of time spent by government in processing permits. Environmentalists and city and county organizations challenged provisions in the bill that ease water-permit requirements for certain construction projects, speed up the time-period for environmental permitting approval and make it more difficult for local governments to review water, air and wetlands proposals.
Ernie Barnett is with the South Florida Water Management District, which does a lot of environmental resource permitting.
"The permit review process makes sure that there's not adverse flooding both on site and off site of the property, and we also protect the public health, safety, and welfare. These are often times not individual homeowner or not individual developer permits. They're major infrastructure being put in by government."
That includes roads and highways. Barnett says his district board only meets once a month, so with a thirty day deadline, every permit would automatically be approved. Senator Nan Rich said the negatives of the bill outweigh the positives for her, specifically the environmental issues and the money.
"I just feel that at this point with all the needs that we have out there, the critical human service needs, educational needs that we are not going to be able to fund, that I have a real problem voting for something that is going to cost $187-million."
But Senator Mike Bennett said there has been too much focus on the bill's price tag.
"When I look at the cost of high unemployment, when I look at the cost of those lack of jobs, when I look at the cost for doing nothing, this is a price, it's not the cost, and I think that we are avoiding cost here."
After two hours of questions, testimony and debate, Senator Gaetz ended the discussion by saying this bipartisan bill is not a silver bullet, but it's a good first step.
"The only way that this government has money is if people have jobs."
The bill passed the committee with twenty-two yes votes and two no votes from Senators Lynn and Rich. It may have trouble in the House, where the chair of the Economic Development Council has already said it costs too much.