Thursday, January 22, 2015

Gov. Scott Dodges Question on Stadium Incentives, Then Pledges Transparency

I've been digging for a couple of months into Florida's new stadium subsidy "competition," which pits pro teams and facilities against each other for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax rebates. It's a process created when Gov. Scott signed the SB 1216 last summer.

A month's worth of hounding of Scott's office for an opportunity to ask the governor a few questions about the controversial incentives paid off with a 60-second interview last week when Scott came through Tampa. But what I got was the same ole' song and dance:

Reporter asks legitimate question; governor gives non-answer answer; reporter asks question in different way; governor talks about jobs. Rinse and repeat.

It can be frustrating for a reporter looking for transparency, but if the below video and transcript is any indication, transparency will soon be on the governor's 2015 "To Do" list:
Reporter: On the stadium issue, there are four proposals right now running through the DEO; all four of those are already underway though. So what's the return for taxpayers giving incentives to programs that are happening anyway?

Gov. Scott: It's a new process; the DEO is reviewing it; they'll be making their report to the legislature on the completeness of those programs.

Reporter: What would you say to Floridians who say these are tax dollars going to billionaires?

Gov. Scott: I'm going…my job is to make sure we get returns for taxpayers and that's what I'm going to continue to focus on. We've had a big turnaround in this state, we've added 715,000 jobs…but, on all incentive programs, you know, you always want to make you get good return and there's transparency. I'll be making some proposals this year to increase returns and to increase transparency.

Reporter: Lastly, any concern about sports teams pitting states against each other and cities against each other to get the best deal?

Gov. Scott: Look, we're competing globally for jobs. And that's part of my job – I want to spend your tax dollars well. But I'm competing to make sure that this is the state that your family can get a great job; your children can get a great education; that's why we're going to have record funding for K-12 education per pupil; make sure we live in a safe state.

Only in Florida can a direct question to the governor about stadium subsidies elicit an answer about K-12 funding.

We'll have much more on this topic over the course of the next week, but why did Scott avoid a very simple question about return on investment? Then avoid a question about giving tens of millions of dollars to teams owned by billionaires? His non-answer answer was about transparency and return on investment.

But Scott failed to address specifics, including his very own state economists questioning the state's stadium spending in a significant study released earlier this month.

The governor also failed to answer the final question about pro teams playing hardball as they look for handouts. It's a topic I've written about extensively over the years. But Scott loves pro sports and has professed his support for increasing stadium subsidies several times, so the clearest answers we may get from him on the topic could come in the form of signed legislation and budget allocations.

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