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My Vote is No on Economic Development Property Tax Exemptions

I’m voting no tomorrow, August 24 — against giving our local government leaders the right and power to decide which businesses will be eligible for property tax exemptions for as long as the next decade. They’re calling the tax exemptions “incentives” to attract businesses, ostensibly to create jobs.

I’ve never believed in paying somebody off, bribing somebody, or giving something to someone to encourage them to do business with me personally, and I don’t believe in doing it as a city or as a county. Really, bottom line, if it wouldn’t be okay behavior for you personally, or for yourself professionally, then why is this kind of behavior okay when a government does it?

I’ve read all the arguments for voting yes, but the bottom lines are this: a) I think it’s bad business to pay someone off to do business with you; and b) this vote requires a huge faith in the decisions reached by our local leaders — because they’ll be the ones deciding which businesses get the tax breaks. I’m already stunned by how poorly I feel our local leaders analyze, discuss, evaluate, and work through decisions that involve millions and millions of dollars. I don’t feel their track record warrants the faith in them they’re asking us to have. And here’s why:

In 2004, the City of Sarasota gave land and about $1.7 million to cover impact fees for the Whole Foods Market downtown to serve people who are well-off enough to buy ready-made dinners and organic produce and the like. In the meantime, our same city leaders have let Winn-Dixie’s much-needed grocery in an under-served, under-employed, and under-the-poverty-line section of town just walk away without a bit of effort, to the best of my knowledge, to stop that from happening. Look at the neighborhoods around these two stores, look at the people who live in them, and then you do the math. Where are the incentives to keep Winn-Dixie?

Several City Commissioners — in the name of economic development — were ready to sign away the much-used, and not a dime-subsidized Sarasota Municipal Auditorium to Ringling College for ONE DOLLAR A YEAR.

Do I need to remind readers about the roughly $5 million — FIVE MILLION DOLLARS, FOLKS — our city and county commissioners spent in pursuit of the Red Sox — for a “deal” that was never anywhere near real?

Do we need to revisit the nearly $800,000 the city commissioners gave away to the New York Times-owned Sarasota Herald-Tribune to help it offset the costs of building new offices on Main Street, at a time when we all knew that newspapers were already economic dinosaurs and when the NYT Regional Newspaper group had already gone on record saying the company’s goal was to build downtown to be “as close to the center of the community as we can manage”? Sarasota leaders gave away 800 large to convince a business to do what it was already planning to do? For a business that has probably laid off more workers in the past few years than it currently even has on staff? Is that really what constitutes “economic development” or “community redevelopment” or “job creation”?

Winslow LifeRaft – makes rafts for Boeing – was recently lured from Desoto County to Sarasota County with $650,00 in incentives from our local leaders. The President of Winslow said that, in addition to the $650k, the proposed property tax breaks — the ones that haven’t even been voted on yet — were a key reason Winslow is coming to Sarasota. This company has no loyalty to a community – it was in Osprey before uprooting and going to Desoto because of the incentives offered by that county– that was in 1999 I think. So now their 10-year incentives are dried up and so they come to Sarasota for another decade of living off the backs of the mom and pop businesses here and then, dollars to doughnuts, they’ll be off and running again to whatever county is offering up the highest incentives then.

Insurer Universal North America has had its US headquarters in Sarasota since 2003 and they by all accounts love having their roots here, and were looking to consolidate. So our county leaders threw $210k in cash incentives to encourage the company to consolidate its complete headquarters and facilities here. Yes, the company plans to add about 80 jobs but only 20 of those will be hired locally. Folks, the company was planning to CONSOLIDATE — IT HAD GONE ON RECORD SAYING IT LOVED HAVING ITS ROOTS HERE — it was probably coming here anyway. But we gave them a half-mil.

Even if they were on the fence, we all have to ask ourselves: Do we really want to make our economic beds with businesses that will only do business with us if we bribe them with rebates and incentives? Is this really the standard for attracting business to which we aspire as a community?

Isn’t there a better way to build our economy than by cozying up to fickle businesses and industries whose modus operandi is to pull up stakes and move whenever and wherever someone dangles a fresh, new, bigger carrot.

I know I’m a throwback to another era, but tell me, really, does it go down well to know you have to pay someone to do business with you? When did bribing become the norm? And, truly, if it is the norm, do we have to lower ourselves to it?

I say no.

Posted on August 23rd, 2010Comments RSS Feed
9 Responses to My Vote is No on Economic Development Property Tax Exemptions
  1. MC – Thanks for bringing up many of the issues on my mind for a loooong time. Especially the RSox, WFoods, and the Auditorium. Way to go, girl!

  2. Terrific column, I just wish you had published this a couple of weeks ago and we could have gotten the word out. I reposted this in several places today.

  3. Thanks Adam — for reading, commenting and helping spread the column. I agree with you — should have been written quite a while back. I’m just deluged with work stuff (a good thing I guess) and so my blog time always comes late in the day. I do appreciate you reading and your feedback — as always — whether you agree with me or not! Happy voting!

  4. Bribing has been “the norm” or commonplace with county leaders throughout Florida for a very long period of time.In today’s Ft.Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, is a story detailing the dirt from two developers who bribed a now jailed commissioner who is currently serving 2/12 years in prison for taking the cash.Palm Beach County has 3 county leaders in jail today due to this same sort of influence peddling.It’s how the system works all over the U.S. but only a few are actually stupid enough to get caught at it.The real story has not been told as to why the Sarasota County staffers give no-bid deals to favored companies selected to rebuild Ed Smith Stadium.Corruption and influence peddling is rampant in this state so it’s only natural that “bribing” corporations or giving away taxpayers money is somehow justified by our current leaders.At lease we get a chance to vote on this issue as opposed to the stadium rebuilding issue where our “leaders” were afraid to put it to the voters. As Commissioner Patterson said “it was not a good idea” to let the taxpayers decide on the stadium rebuild issue. This rampant barrage of influence peddling will never change in America.

  5. Thanks Robert, for reading the blog and sharing your thoughts. I didn’t catch the Sun-Sentinel story, but I’ll check it out. And the no-bid situation at Ed Smith — kind of crazy! Thanks for the info.

  6. Robert, can you believe, the referendum to re-build the Ed Smith Stadium was brought to the table three times, placed on the ballot, and all three times, the referendum was unanimouslyvoted down by the voters!

    Why would a Republican candidate for Governor – (Rick Scott), donate almost $27,000.000.00 of his own money, to gain the seat, when the position pay’s less than $140,000.00 per year: The Governor’s salary is established each year in the general appropriations act (the law that established the State budget). According to the Laws of Florida, Chapter 2008-152 (General Appropriations), the annual salary of the Governor for Fiscal Year 2008-2009 is $132,932

    People, friends of the blog, we truly need to wake up. I absolutely respect M.C.’s decision to vote down the Economic Development Tax Exemption.

    Why, is Marina Jacks exempt from paying city taxes?

    I ask that you please, read the following article which appeared in the Herald-Tribune. We truly need to place more decisions in the hands of the voters. It appears that each year, we lose just a little of our rights as citizens, whereas, the special interest groupe tend to get a little more powerful. Heck, look at how Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase is profiting from the current foreclosure crisis. You read the head-lines daily, as more and more banks are failing, Chase just opened 1,200 new branches on the profits made by foreclosure sales alone.

    Ok, getting off the subject at hand.

    Please read this article:

  7. Oh, excuse me…. Rick Scott spent $50,000.000.00 FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS of his own money, for a position which pays less than $133,000.00 per year….and why…oh yea, because his intentions for the citizens of the state of Florida are honest…

    Oh man…this is too much.

    Ok people, listen up… I’m openening a snow blower shop on Main St.. and taking pre-winter orders now…

  8. Hawkeye: Sign me up, I could use a snowblower. Maybe you could modify it to a BS blower?

    Voters approved the measure yesterday. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs…and not the Steve variety. No, it was a pig-in-a-poke vote, a measure of our local desperation. Who do you believe? One-in-eight out of a job, one-in-six?

    Will this measure lift us, nobody knows. Does it bulk up the balance sheet of incoming corporations? Sure. They won’t pay for police protection, fire, human services, 911, roads…all the things renters and homeowners carry. Such good citizens they are. Welcome to the free ride. On your back. Sure hope the snowblowin’ biz is a success. s/StanZ


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