TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A wide-ranging economic development bill passed by the Florida House Wednesday includes a long menu of tax cuts and incentives to businesses designed to create jobs and provide a shot in the arm to Florida's sagging economy.
The House voted 117-0 to pass the so-called "Jobs for Florida" bill (SB 1752), which also sets aside around $28 million for building the aerospace industry and retraining workers affected by the retirement of the space shuttle program at Cape Canaveral.
The Senate cleared the bill last month, but it will have to go back to that chamber again before the end of the week for approval of the tweaks made in the House version. The bill, a top priority for Republican legislators this session, gives tax breaks to certain buyers of boats, aircraft and machinery, and offers a tax credit to businesses for hiring Floridians who have been unemployed for at least a month and to industries that add high-paying jobs.
Tax breaks also will be offered to the entertainment industry for producing movies, TV shows or digital media in the Sunshine State, with extra incentives available for family-friendly movies or filming during hurricane season.
The credits would be transferable, which means companies could sell them to other companies, including those that have nothing to do with the film industry. A state program to help first-time homeowners also would be expanded. The growth package is projected to cost about $200 million over the next three years.
"The No. 1 challenge that faces the state of Florida right now is the fact that we are not creating enough jobs. This bill does that," said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, one of the lead House negotiators on the measure.
"It cuts taxes, it creates tax incentives, it deregulates over-burdensome government that stifles economic activity." In addition to the tax incentives, the measure requires local governments to report to the Legislature every year on their own economic incentives, and allows the governments to extend ad valorum tax exemptions to 10 years before another referendum is required.
Another House negotiator on the bill, Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, acknowledged that she couldn't come up with hard numbers of how many jobs would be created, saying "this is about giving businesses incentives and opportunities through policy."
The bill enjoyed bipartisan support, but some Democratic members expressed doubts that huge tax cuts and incentives were the best way to ease the pain of regular Floridians suffering in hard economic times. "I have a heavy heart, members, because this enormous bill with all of its elements does not encompass all of our communities," said Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, who said he was reluctantly voting for the bill.
"It is very difficult for me to go to my community and tell them that this is a jobs bill for them." The state's economy, hit hard by the real estate crisis and recession, continues to sputter, with unemployment at 12.3 percent and 1.1 million Floridians out of work.