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House panel begins discussions about economic incentives

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A Florida House subcommittee took its first stab at addressing economic incentives during a panel discussion Wednesday.

While the two-hour House Careers & Competition Subcommittee meeting gave experts a chance to weigh-in on economic incentives, the crux of the discussion centered around a single question from Rep. Halsey Beshears, the committee’s chairman.

Beshears asked the panel — which included Chris Hart IV, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida; Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Development; and Fatima Perez, the regional manager of state government affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector — why the House should, or shouldn’t, modify the current economic incentive policies. The response? Well, that was mixed.

“Economic development does not happen without an investment,” said Proctor. “We believe in a strong economic development package, and we have to have (incentives).”

The House blocked an effort in 2016 to create a $250 million business incentive fund under Enterprise Florida. And House Republicans appear to be the poised to do the same in 2017.

Led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Florida House appears poised to oppose economic incentive proposals. Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, has derided Enterprise Florida as a dispenser of “corporate welfare” and has vowed to lead the effort  to end taxpayer funding to the organization.

“All of the members here, we’ve heard the Speaker passionately argue against corporate welfare and we want to get a better handle on it,” said Beshears, a Monticello Republican, who went on to say the House is having discussions to figure out how to move forward.

Perez said her company supports ending “corporate welfare.” And that should come as no surprise to capital watchers. Americans for Prosperity-Florida, which led the effort against economic incentives last year, is backed by the Koch brothers.

“While Florida lawmakers are continuing to look at this, we believe there is plenty of room for improvement,” she said.

But supporters said incentives are just one tool in the toolbox, and are only one part of the discussion state and local officials have with companies looking to move to Florida.

“They are not an entitlement, (but) they tip the scale in our favor” said Kelly Smallridge, the president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. “Incentives are only one policy discussion.”

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