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State House panel backs shuttering Enterprise Florida

Florida House of Representatives
Special to WGCU
Bill sponsor Tiffany Esposito, R-Fort Myers, argued the changes are needed, in part, because Enterprise Florida has “over-promised and under-delivered for years.”

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Thursday continued to push forward on eliminating the state’s business-recruitment agency, with the issue expected to be decided in upcoming budget negotiations with the Senate.

The House Ways & Means Committee voted 16-6 to approve a bill (HB 5) that would close the doors on Enterprise Florida and repeal a series of economic-development programs. The issue is a priority of House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast.

Bill sponsor Tiffany Esposito, R-Fort Myers, argued the changes are needed, in part, because Enterprise Florida has “over-promised and under-delivered for years.”

“Businesses don't choose to come to Florida because of incentive programs,” Esposito said. “They choose to come to Florida because of our regulatory environment, because of our business-friendly policies passed by this Legislature and because of our tax structure.”

While several Enterprise Florida offices and programs would be shifted into the Department of Economic Opportunity, Esposito said budget talks would determine how many of Enterprise Florida’s 70 employees -- 10 in leadership roles -- would be absorbed into the department.

The proposal also calls for ending 25 programs and incentives. But Esposito said provisions will be introduced in the next week to address the future of the Urban High-Crime Area Job Tax Credit Program, the Capital Investment Tax Credit, entertainment industry sales-tax exemptions and an education and film tax exemption.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, expressed concerns about the fate of the Office of Film and Entertainment and the state continuing to “devalue” arts and culture and film. But Eskamani otherwise viewed the package as a “good reset.”

“I do think it's important that we evaluate these programs, if not annually, at least every five years,” Eskamani said. “Some of these programs, not only are they defunct, but they have been exploited by big corporations.”

Esposito said incentives involving the film industry have a return of less than 60 cents for every dollar spent.

But backers of the film industry pointed to Department of Revenue figures for 2022 that showed the 1,217 film projects using a sales-tax exemption program spent more than $1.4 billion in the state.

The House in recent years has repeatedly targeted economic-development programs and incentives. The Senate is not calling for elimination of Enterprise Florida.

During a meeting of the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors on Tuesday, President and CEO Laura DiBella sidestepped the “headwinds” the agency is experiencing.

“Our forward progress is too great,” DiBella told board members, adding, “This is where I feel we are as a team: full ahead.”

Along with the proposed Enterprise Florida elimination, the House is taking a different path from the Senate on the future of the state’s tourism-marketing and aerospace agencies.

The House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee on Tuesday backed a proposal that would cut off state funding for Visit Florida, with money instead drawn from the 62 county tourist-development councils.

A separate measure also moving in the House seeks to shift programs within Space Florida to the Department of Economic Opportunity and to give the governor more control over Space Florida’s board of directors.