Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island (Pic by Office of Senate President, via flsenate.gov)

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos today committed to include “a formal study reviewing the effectiveness of economy development incentives, tax credits, exemptions, and subsidies,” in the state’s economic incentives bill, which is now on its way to the governor’s desk. The announcement is a victory for progressive groups across the state.

Floridians for a Fair Economy, a progressive group in the state, made the announcement in a press release sent out today. The group describes itself as “a coalition of middle-class workers fighting to control government spending, end special treatment for big corporations and the rich, and make sure that Florida is investing in schools, health care, and public safety.”

Haridopolos’ announcement today represents a sizable victory for the group and progressives all over the state, who have been in the position of promoting legislation as more of a symbolic gesture in the increasingly conservative GOP-led Florida Legislature for the past few years.

Last year, the Florida Center for Fiscal Policy and Economic Policy released a report calling upon legislators to evaluate whether or not the many tax breaks and grants afforded to companies by the state of Florida are actually creating jobs. The public policy group argued that the state “provides huge benefits to selected companies each year, many of which receive little or no examination of their value to Florida’s economy.” At least $4 billion in annual breaks have been given to businesses in the state of Florida in the past couple of years, the group reported.

The Center’s suggestion to make sure public funds were actually creating the jobs they were supposed to was part of a bill introduced by Democrats this year. The “Fair Economy Act,” introduced this year by state Sen. Nan Rich and State Rep. Evan Jenne, was aimed at creating more transparency and accountability for businesses receiving subsidies or tax breaks in the state.

A big part of that bill might now come to fruition, given Haridopolos’ announcement.

Floridians for a Fair Economy said in a statement today:

“All session long we’ve been pushing for an honest review of the tax dollars given away to corporations at the expense of hard working middle class families,” said Fair Economy State Director Afifa Khaliq. “Better late than never, this study will be a great leap forward in our effort to build a more fair economy in our state.”

“I applaude the Senate for recognizing the importance of transparency and accountability in regard to all public expenditures including those related to economic development tax breaks and incentives,” said Karen Woodall, Director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.

The verbal commitment was made after an amendment by Senator Eleanor Sobel (D- Hollywood) was withdrawn. Earlier this session, incoming Senate President Don Gaetz also made public comments regarding increasing transparency at the Department of Economic Opportunity. The language of the withdrawn amendment was as follows:

“To ensure transparency and accountability for the expenditure of tax dollars, an interim study shall be conducted by the Finance and Tax Committee, the Commerce Committee, or the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Committee, as designated by the presiding officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives, in consultation with Florida Tax Watch, the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, and other interested parties, to determine the effectiveness of the state’s economic development tax incentives, including exemptions, credits, subsidies, or grants, in achieving job creation and growth state.”

Yesterday, progressives and labor groups from all over that state rallied at the Capitol to denounce the state’s austere budget cuts to public services such as health and education. Both the Florida House and the Senate are set to vote for a final budget today worth $70 billion dollars that would cut state funds for higher education and public health. The groups protested the cuts and lamented that big corporations in the state were receiving continued tax breaks even in the wake of continued budget shortfalls.

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