On Volusia: To those much is given – much is expected

Now that our elected officials have ponied up an estimated $15-million-dollars in tax abatements and other “economic incentives” for construction of the much-ballyhooed Brown & Brown headquarters on Beach Street, what comes next?

The campaign finance cycle has come full-circle, and billionaire insurance executive J. Hyatt Brown will receive a healthy return on his investment in local political races.  In Florida, this “pay to play” scheme is perfectly legal and permissible by contemporary election regulations and modern standards of business ethics.

Literally, everybody’s doing it – and I can’t name a large, successful corporate entity in the region that hasn’t benefited from “economic development” handouts, infrastructure improvements and other publicly funded incentives.

Apparently, it’s not quid pro quo corruption at all.  It is the open and honest purchase of political influence at all levels of government.

In Volusia County, political candidates are trafficked like sheep at a Turkish Bazaar, bought and branded by a few uber-wealthy insiders seeking a personal and professional advantage – all perfectly legal – so who am I to complain?

Apparently, it’s how the game is played.

It is now the norm – and government assistance is routinely factored as an expected part of any private development or expansion.  Always with the promise of “high paying jobs,” you know, for “our kids.” 

When it happens, I take perverse pleasure in watching our elected marionettes shift uncomfortably in their wingback chairs as they crow, ad nauseum, about all the wonderful things that are coming for their weary constituents, once we grease the wheels of the “next big thing” proposed by their rich benefactors with millions of our hard-earned tax dollars.

“It’s a game changer on steroids!” 

 “We see tremendous opportunity!” 

It’s almost like they are trying to convince themselves its right – even as they face the dark, Faustian realization that their sacred vote has been bought and paid for in advance.

If you’re an elected official, it helps “seal the deal” if you have a fancy “study” in your pocket showing all the intrinsic benefits to your constituents – those hapless dupes who will help pay for the elegant brick and glass edifice – even if they will never be invited to set one toe inside.

At the urging of a smart friend, I read the “economic and fiscal impact study” – contracted and paid for by Brown & Brown – and conducted by the venerated economists Fishkind and Associates.

I admit it – I’m too dumb to understand much of it – and I suspect few of our elected officials on the Dais of Power (who took the time to read it) understood it either.

Unless you know the subtle nuances of “Social Accounting Matrices,” or “base-case projections” and mathematically derived “Multiplier Models” – then we’ll just have to put a serious look on our face, shake our heads approvingly, and take Fishkind’s word for it that (according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal) “our” new building will generate some $237-million in annual economic impact here on the Fun Coast. 

I hope they’re right.

We all do.

But, you know me, I’m always suspicious of convoluted private “studies” and “reports” that serve as political insulation.

Sorry.  I can’t help it.

I’m a skeptical asshole.

Look, I’m no fiscal impact expert, but this project can’t help but bring good things for Downtown Daytona.

To my weak mind, it’s a beautiful 10-story insurance office that is being constructed on the ruins of two defunct automobile dealerships – vacant lots that have sat like monuments to our areas “redevelopment” ineptitude for decades – so, it can’t help but have a positive impact on the local economy.

Even if it doesn’t, it will damn sure look better than what’s there now.

I’m just not sure with $15-million spent that my day-to-day life (or yours) will change one iota.

But that’s okay.  It’s not about us.

The only thing I ask in exchange for my pro rata share of the public handout is that Brown & Brown executives climb in the corporate limo, mix a cocktail, and take a chauffeured drive through the neighborhoods of any community in Volusia County.

I want them to see – first hand – the malignant blight and neglect that is slowly spreading throughout the Halifax area – neighborhoods that were once middle-class bastions, now pockmarked with abandoned houses, weeded lots and a palpable lack of hope – and the growing number of vacant strip centers and dilapidated commercial corridors.

I want them to know that I’m not just some angry, reactionary asshole spouting venomous “us vs. them” rhetoric.

I want them to know that to those much is given – much is expected.

Dammit.

In Volusia County, some 16% of the population live in poverty.

That’s not just a statistic, it represents flesh and blood – thousands of men, women and children caught in an economic Catch 22 of seasonal low-wage jobs that fuel an artificial economy, the “affordable housing” trap and crushing economic and social depression.

Our median household income trails both state and national averages, which means the “typical job” in the Halifax area pays less than almost anywhere in the nation.

It is why our non-profit service providers, food pantries, and government assistance programs are overburdened – and it is why people raise an eyebrow when the seventh largest insurance intermediary in the world – a company that reported revenues of some $1.76 billion dollars last year – asks the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County for incentives totaling nearly half the estimated construction cost for their new corporate headquarters.

So, now that the die is cast and we are all “partners” with Brown & Brown, I hope that the promises made are honored.

It’s important.

Our area urgently needs high-paying jobs that naturally stimulate a year-round economy – and perhaps this is the project that will ultimately bring stability and stop the horrific cycle of blight.

Given our level of investment, let’s collectively demand that any corporate entity who drinks greedily at the public trough be held accountable for producing the stratospheric economic and fiscal impact that their “experts” assured us would come.

If We, The People, are truly partners – then we deserve honesty and accountability from those who stand to profit from our hard-earned funds.

We need your wisdom and leadership, Mr. Brown.

We are counting on you to make good on your promises.

 

 

 

 

 

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