by William Patrick…….
Gov. Rick Scott has a soft spot for taxpayer-funded business incentive deals, but regarding one of the biggest incentive busts in the state’s history the Scott administration is demanding accountability – about $77 million worth.
In a sharply-worded letter to the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute Inc., the Department of Economic Opportunity accuses the California-based medical research institute of “material default” on its contract, while attempting to distinguish its own incentive dealings from the type that led to the apparent debacle.
“On August 16, 2006, the Legislative Budget Commission approved the release of $155,272,000 from the economic development trust fund for Sanford Burnham. In contrast to today’s projects that require significant return on investment prior to the release of state funds, which policy was established by Governor Scott, the Sanford Burnham project released funds in the good faith belief that our partner would carry out their legal obligations under their agreement,” the letter reads.
Sanford Burnham was awarded $350 million in state and local government financing to recreate its California success in Orlando. Over the ensuing decade, it failed to create a required 303 jobs. Its Florida operation is now out of incentive money and the company is trying to cut-and-run back to California, the state says.
Not so fast.
As per the letter, Sanford Burnham still has 10 more years left on its contract and must fulfill its core obligations even though the company already received 99 percent of the state’s funding. State officials have given the institute just two weeks to put into writing that it will remain in the Sunshine State for the next decade, or else.
“To avoid the time and expense of potentially protracted litigation, DEO formally demands that Sanford Burnham refund the State of Florida 50 percent of the monies provided ($77,636,000) by November 15, 2016 … if Sanford Burnham does not honor its agreement to remain in Florida for the full 20 years.”
The letter, dated Oct. 28, also gave the medical institute 24 hours to commit to remaining in Florida for the next year.
Scott’s accountability efforts aren’t likely to persuade incoming state House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, about the validity of his approach to offering businesses and other organizations money and tax breaks to relocate to Florida. Claw-back measures or not, Corcoran has vowed to block any attempt to replenish the state’s tax incentive program – which is currently empty.
“The belief that corporate welfare will not be in the House budget is not a negotiating position, it’s a fact,” Corcoran said in a Twitter post on Monday. Corcoran’s social media post features an image of himself speaking to the governor and other legislative members.
“Free handouts and tax breaks for the politically connected has consistently resulted in jobs that never were and waste that never should’ve been,” he said.