Dr. Rick Harper believes that Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s efforts to dismantle Gov. Rick Scott’s business incentives programs invited those involved in economic development to “bring a knife to a gunfight.”
“Speaker Corcoran felt comfortable in disarming you and saying that you no longer have that tool available,” Harper told Cissy Proctor, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity at the NAIOP Northwest Florida’s Annual Economic Summit on Wednesday. “I mean, thank God, we got Triumph through with the provisions it does have in it because it’s substantially better than nothing.”
Harper is an associate professor of marketing and economics at the University of West Florida. He was the director of UWF’s Center for Research and Economic Opportunity, which helped the university play a more significant role in economic development and job growth in Northwest Florida. From 2012-2014, Harper served as Senior Policy Advisor for Economic Affairs to the Florida Senate.
He explained that businesses, particularly those in manufacturing, look for cash grants before locating to a new area. Alabama and Georgia have such incentive programs. Location consultants bring clients “to the table where they sit with government leaders who are saying, ‘Yes, we can give you this much money.'”
Harper said, “Florida now cannot play in that game. Governor Scott was entirely in the right on that argument.”
He compared the fight over incentive programs to gun control.
“Gun control might be okay if you could be sure that everybody didn’t have a gun. Then it would be okay for you not to have a gun,” Harper said.
“But what Speaker Corcoran did was say, ‘Okay, Florida, the other people are still gonna have their guns, but here’s your knife. So it was, a very unfortunate outcome of the session.”
He said that this wasn’t always the case.
“One of the good things that happened in the 2013-14 session was we attempted to put all of the incentive programs on a level footing in terms of calculating return on investment. And that was so that there could be a common yardstick to measure whether they were meeting the taxpayer objectives,” he told the crowd of commercial realtors, bankers, developers, and contractors.
“And the ones that weren’t, like enterprise zones, they could be gotten rid of with not a twinge of conscience because that would free up money to devote to the higher return programs,” said Harper. “And it’s enshrined in law that at least the closing fund has to have a five-to-one return measured in terms of tax dollars generated.”
He lamented the state was now handicapped when approaching businesses to relocate or invest in Escambia County and other places in Florida
Harper said, “Florida cannot come to the table because we no longer have the toolkit. It’s just a really unfortunate outcome of this legislative session.”