Saturday, November 18, 2017
Business

For a Better Florida: The battle over Florida's free market

RECOMMENDED READING


This spring, some leading lawmakers in the Florida Legislature are smitten with a searing desire to inject more "free market" principles into Florida's economy.

Job incentives be damned. Tourism marketing? A waste of tax dollars.

On the surface, business should cheer more free market competition in Florida. For decades, most business complaints leveled against the federal and state governments have involved excessive regulation, compliance costs and taxes.

"Just let us compete" has been the default cry of Florida businesses since the beginning.

Until now.

This year, Gov. Rick Scott finds himself oddly positioned, painted as a big lefty spender and market meddler. His nemesis: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the defender-in-theory of free markets and smaller government.

Much of this session may become secondary to this wrestling match over power and desire to set the business agenda for the state. Corcoran's scorched earth premise says it is better to eliminate Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private job recruiting organization, as well as Visit Florida, the state's public-private promoter of tourism, than to waste one more public penny.

Seen through the Corcoran lens, government should not be picking the winners and losers through business deals subsidized by taxpayer incentives.

No question, Scott's done a lousy job of picking people to run Enterprise Florida. Before his premature departure, tone-deaf Enterprise Florida president Bill Johnson gave big-buck contracts to employees who used to work with him at PortMiami. In 2015, Enterprise Florida employees received more than $633,000 in bonuses.

Visit Florida, too, grew too confident as tourism rainmaker as the state racked up year after year of record numbers of visitors. As its marketing budget ballooned from $29 million in 2009 to $78 million, Visit Florida arrogantly cut pitchman deals topping $1 million apiece with performers like Pitbull and a second-tier British soccer team. Visit Florida refused to disclose how much these deals were worth, sparking a backlash that led to the departure of the top executive. Now it's a favorite target of Corcoran and his fiscal hawks to cut down to size.

One bill already in the works would slash Visit Florida's budget to $25 million, less than it was eight years ago.

In response, Scott's reached out statewide to rally tourism executives and regional economic development groups, including the Tampa Hillsborough EDC, to seek $85 million in job incentives.

Scott argues that Corcoran and his ideological base don't get the way business and economic development work. Besides, Scott notes correctly, the state government is awash in incentives. Why pick on these two if preserving the free market is so paramount?

When big businesses shop for places to expand, they consider a whole package of criteria. Near the top are the size and breadth of incentives from competing states. Sever Florida from its incentives, Scott warns, and big deals will migrate elsewhere. It's really that simple.

Where does this schoolyard shoving match leave Florida's economy?

Here's one likely scenario. The hellfire approach of the House will be tempered in the Senate. Neither Enterprise Florida nor Visit Florida will be sacrificed to free-market principles. But their House-controlled budgets will be reined in as political punishment though, it is hoped, with stronger accountability.

All this Florida gamesmanship takes place, of course, against the vastly bigger and unpredictable economic backdrop of President Donald Trump. He's the one pressuring U.S. companies to expand jobs in this country and not overseas. How? By threatening businesses with higher trade tariffs and taxes if companies opt to have their goods made overseas but sold in the United States.

That's hardly a free-market approach. Funny how we have not heard Florida's House Speaker condemn President Trump for such corporate arm-twisting.

Scott. Corcoran. Trump. Florida's business community will struggle to interpret a painfully mixed message on how our economy will, rather than should, operate.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

Comments
Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

As economists predicted, the tough hit that Florida jobs took from Hurricane Irma was not long-lived. The state added 125,300 jobs in October, almost breaking even from the 127,400 jobs it lost in September. According to state figures released Friday...
Published: 11/17/17
Apple will postpone release of  HomePod

Apple will postpone release of HomePod

The Washington PostApple said Friday that it’s pushing back its plans for a Siri-powered smart speaker until sometime early next year.The HomePod speaker was announced in June, with an initial launch date set for December. Apple said that its smart s...
Published: 11/17/17
HSN, Good Housekeeping pick five contest finalists

HSN, Good Housekeeping pick five contest finalists

ST. PETERSBURG — Good Housekeeping and St. Petersburg-based HSN have chosen five finalists for their entrepreneur competition. The partners are searching for a novel item to promote as endorsed by the Good Housekeeping Seal, denoting reliability and ...
Published: 11/17/17
Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

How are we doing?That was the Big Question posed more than once this past week in Tampa Bay. First, the Tampa Bay Partnership and USF debuted in-depth and new ways to measure Tampa Bay across a wide range of indicators to gauge whether we are gaining...
Published: 11/17/17
Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

The main course was expected: a pair of sleek silver Tesla semi-trucks that get 500 miles per charge, go from zero to 60 mph in five seconds and — if the hype is to be believed — promise to single-handedly transform the commercial trucking industry.B...
Published: 11/17/17
We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

What one thing could be added to the Tampa Bay startup community to help it grow and prosper?The Tampa Bay Times reached out to these leading area entrepreneurs and startup experts for answers.RELATED COVERAGE: Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? D...
Published: 11/17/17
Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Plotting a shopping strategy for the holiday weekend? Here’s a look at holiday store opening hours for some major retailers:Thanksgiving8 a.m.: Kmart1 p.m.: JCPenney4 p.m.: GameStop5 p.m.: Best Buy, Macy’s, Toys "R" Us, Kohl’s6 p.m.: Old Navy, Target...
Published: 11/17/17
Electric, autonomous vehicles featured at Tampa auto show

Electric, autonomous vehicles featured at Tampa auto show

TAMPA — The two biggest trends in the automotive space are ones you’ve likely heard of: electric vehicles and autonomous cars. Both will feature prominently at the Tampa Bay International Auto Show today through Sunday. The event at the ...
Published: 11/17/17
Developer changes approach as downtown Largo project lags in financing

Developer changes approach as downtown Largo project lags in financing

LARGO — Driving down West Bay Drive, you may notice some changes to downtown Largo.A new 29-unit apartment complex on Ridge Road stands finished and ready for residents. South of the complex, land that was formerly home to a community of rundown cott...
Published: 11/17/17
Pasco’s 2018 Outstanding Senior hails from River Ridge High

Pasco’s 2018 Outstanding Senior hails from River Ridge High

River Ridge High School senior Connor Beckman has been named Pasco County’s 2018 Outstanding Senior.Commander of the school’s Air Force JROTC program, Beckman is also an Eagle Scout mentor, National Honor Society president and swim team captain.Beckm...
Updated: 1 hour ago