Republicans in Tallahassee have left Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan scratching his head.
Plenty of city and county government officials have recently disparaged members of the Florida Legislature for passing a measure to expand the homestead exemption, which could ultimately deprive them of millions of dollars of revenues in the coming years.
As for Hagan, a lifelong Hillsborough County Republican, he doesn’t have that big of an issue with his fellow GOP state lawmakers over that matter.
But Hagan certainly does have a problem with killing Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development organization slated to be completely defunded unless Gov. Rick Scott vetoes that bill in the next month.
Led by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Florida House voted to defund Enterprise Florida, which offers tax incentives to lure businesses to the state, decrying it as corporate welfare.
Hagan has trouble understanding that attitude.
“Years ago, the conservative pro-business Republicans were always in favor, because it was job creation, (and) it was the more liberal side that made the case it was corporate welfare,” Hagan said Friday at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa. “Now it’s a 180.”
Hagan was speaking to about 50 people at the event, part of the Cafe Con Tampa series.
“Now you’ve got far right conservative Republicans saying this is corporate welfare and why are we doing this,” he said. “And I really don’t understand.”
More than ever, local city councils and county commission members up and down the state have criticized the GOP-led Legislature this spring for seemingly attacking the idea of “home rule,” including numerous attempts to take power away from local governments, and bring control back to Tallahassee.
In some cases, they were successful; others, not so much.
“It’s been my impression through the years that there are certain members of the Legislature … that really appear to loathe local government, and I don’t really quite understand that,” Hagan said.
Some Democrats say that they believe Tallahassee is biased against local governments, in part because they’re controlled by Democrats.
But that’s not universal throughout the state.
For years, the Hillsborough County Commission has been a dominantly conservative Republican board, and Hagan said it’s been as fiscally conservative “as any in the state. ”
“Yet it seems like some members, for whatever reason, think that local government just wastes money away, and I really don’t understand that.”
“I’m a fiscal conservative,” Hagan continued, “and it’s always been my opinion that conservatives believe in devolving power from the federal level to the state level to the local level, and some of their actions appear to be inconsistent with that core conservative philosophy.”
“I don’t understand where it’s coming from.”
The 49-year-old Carrollwood-based legislator sponsored a number of ordinances that have captured the attention of the public over the years. That includes this week’s ban on commercial puppy stores opening in the county, in an attempt to crack down on puppy mills.
Initially elected in 2002, he’s been re-elected four different times, serving in two separate districts; he’s hungry to stay involved in county politics, announcing last month he will run next year for the District 2 North Hillsborough. It’s a seat he previously held for eight years (2002-2010).
That’s prompted some grumbling from Democrats and Republicans such as Tom Lee, who say that it violates the spirit of term limits in the county which call for a maximum of two terms in one district.
But the fact is, Democrats haven’t been able to beat Hagan in five different elections to date.
One issue that the Legislature recently approved that has irked local lawmakers is the vote to expand the homestead exemption by another $25,000 on the November 2018 ballot.
County Administrator Mike Merrill said that could bring a financial hit of up to $36 million annually to the county, but Hagan doesn’t have an issue with it.
“Whenever we can offer our citizens property tax relief we should, but it’s going to require us to continue tightening our belt,” he said bluntly.
When it comes to tax incentives for luring Hollywood productions to the county, Hagan has been an unflagging champion of the concept.
However, because state lawmakers have declined to replenish that incentive program in recent years, Hollywood producers wanting to film in Tampa went to states like Louisiana or Georgia, as was the case of the recent Ben Affleck-directed “Live By Night.”
The producers of last summer’s “The Infiltrator” wanted to film extensively in the Tampa Bay area, but couldn’t because of the lack of a state incentive. Led by Hagan, the County contributed $250,000 to the producers to convince them to shoot some scenes here.
“When properly executed and we can show a return on investment, and you’re offering your incentives after the fact, after they’ve created the thresholds, it’s a sound investment and a strong return on investment,” he says.
Hagan believes the problem with incentives are when they are offered before a company actually meets the metrics such as how many jobs they will bring to the area. He remains hopeful that Tallahassee will change their policy on providing film subsidies, though that certainly won’t happen under the current regime.
Hagan has also been well known for championing sports to the region, and he’s been the number one cheerleader/strategist in trying to lure the cross-bay Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa.
Admitting to being frustrated about how long the process has gone on, Hagan sounded optimistic that the Rays would announce their choice of a stadium sometime in 2017, and hinted that it would be somewhere in the Ybor/Channelside area.
“I think that they will be able to come up with something special that’s going a long way toward transforming downtown, Channelside-Ybor area, where I don’t mind saying that it’s going to be in that geographical swath,” he said. “It’s going to go a long way toward transforming downtown Tampa and the entire Tampa Bay area.”