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Jack Latvala says evidence doesn’t support House on job incentives

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The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee defended state spending on economic incentives Thursday by pointing to evidence the effort produces solid returns on investment.

Visit Florida, for example, returns $3.20 cents for every dollar spent on advertising, according to figures (here; scroll down) from Amy Baker, state government’s top economist.

Enterprise Florida’s international offices program, meanwhile, returns $4. And its export assistance program returns $1.90. That’s as measured in tax revenue.

Not counting spending on beaches, transportation, and aviation, five of the top programs in return on investment involve the sort of incentives that would be outlawed under a bill approved Wednesday by the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee.

“They all produce a net increase in tax revenue, over and above what we invest in them. And all five of them are included in the bill the House passed out of committee yesterday to abolish,” chairman Jack Latvala said during a meeting of his committee.

Other than Baker, Latvala called Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity before the committee to defend Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida Inc., and other economic incentives.

Also on hand was Stan Conley, president and CEO of Gulf Power and vice chairman of the Enterprise Florida Board; Eric Silagy, his counterpart at Florida Power & Light Co. and a member of EFI’s board; and local economic development officials from Broward, Gadsden, Palm Beach, and Volusia Counties.

Frank Walker, vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, endorsed incentives. So did Robert Weissert of Florida TaxWatch, who said Baker’s analyst might have understated their value by not accounting benefits other than tax returns — jobs, for example.

Latvala agreed with the thrust of Gov. Rick Scott‘s criticism of House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other House leaders who oppose economic incentives spending as corporate welfare. Scott suggested political ambition motivated them.

“People say things this time of year, and everybody forgets about it,” Latvala said.

But he added: “I have to agree with sort of the intent of the governor’s statement. I think it was trying to relate some of their policy initiatives more to politics than our economy in Florida — whether it’s politics for somebody’s personal gain or ambition, or whether it’s politics for some particular group that’s organized by out-of-state folds to advocate for a certain point. I think politics have been in play, as opposed to what’s good for Florida’s economy.”

Latvala doesn’t understand the House leadership’s logic.

“If we’re making a profit in tax funds on some of these programs, why in the world would we get rid of them?” he said.

“Because then, we just have to make up that tax revenue somewhere else. It’s going to have to come out of some retired person’s pocket, Latvala continued.

“It’s not just me. It’s not just the governor. The governor’s got a lot of support in this.”

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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