“Over the past decade, the county has paid out tens of millions of dollars in grants to new business ventures hoped to generate large amounts of jobs and property taxes.
So did it work? An internal audit the county performed this year found big developments such as the One Daytona shops and restaurants, Trader Joe’s distribution center and Tanger Outlets mall did indeed deliver with hundreds of jobs and tens of thousands of dollars in property tax payments.
The private companies met the terms of their economic development incentives awarded by the County Council, Jonathan Edwards, the county’s internal auditor, told Council members during their meeting Tuesday.
“I believe our incentive program has done what it’s supposed to do,” said County Council member Ben Johnson. “We need to make sure we have checks and balances in it to make sure it stays that way. But overall it’s done a lot for Volusia County.”
–Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Have millions in Volusia business grants paid off?” Thursday, May 19, 2022
Following a recent in-house review of Volusia County’s lucrative corporate welfare scheme – excuse me, “economic development incentive” program – At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson and I agree on one thing:
The program has done exactly “what it’s supposed to do.”
Which, in my jaded view, is to keep the public trough slopped for the political benefactors of sitting elected officials who receive millions of dollars in tax incentives, infrastructure, and other publicly funded artificial props in exchange for massive campaign contributions – a weird, and completely legal, something-for-something that keeps the whole shebang going round-and-round.
Am I wrong?
And I don’t mean by anesthetizing taxpayers with a boring PowerPoint presentation explaining how property values increased because some mega-corporation built a shopping center on a vacant parcel of previously “agriculturally exempt” land.
That’s a given.
We are told, ad nauseum, by those wooden puppets on the dais of power – and their bagmen over at Team Volusia – that if Volusia County is to remain ‘competitive,’ we must shower public funds and economic “incentives” on certain businesses and industries to convince them to locate or remain here.
In my view, the idea of local government – lavish and bloated bureaucracies – skewing the free marketplace, picking winners and losers by gifting them our tax dollars, is a shameless example of the cronyism that has ruled Volusia County for decades – a practice that is patently unfair to thousands of small businesses, creates an artificial economy, and is detrimental to the concept of free enterprise.
Anyone else find it funny that the Gang of Four – Council members Johnson, Danny Robins, Fred Lowry, and Billie Wheeler – portray themselves as “conservatives,” the darlings of the local Republican apparatus, each election cycle – while openly shilling for corporate socialism even as they shamelessly raise our property taxes?
In my view, the opulence of government offices, massive executive salaries, the gilded council chamber where citizens are ignored while what passes for the “public business” is conducted – along with the millions in incentives, subsidies, and tax breaks available for those with a chip in the game – is a classic sign of waste and over-taxation.
When will We, The Little People say, “enough is enough” and begin the arduous process of rightsizing Volusia County government?
I find it telling that after public protection, essential services, and emergency reserves are covered – bureaucrats still have piles of excess public funds to speculate in the free market and bankroll the for-profit endeavors of many of the same “movers & shakers” whose names and corporate entities often appear on the campaign finance reports of those same craven elected officials who handed them a big bag of “incentives.”
Sound familiar? It should.
In the view of many, that’s not fair competition in a free and open marketplace – that’s classic quid pro quo collusion between business insiders and their elected marionettes – cloaked as “economic opportunity.”
In response to the News-Journal’s recent exposé, “Have millions in Volusia business grants paid off? They have become common lure for development,” Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower took to social media to clarify his position, explaining:
“I am glad the Volusia Economic Development department has moved to performance-based incentives, but we are still limiting ourselves while picking winners and losers.
Every person and business is taxed in Volusia County. They all expect to reap the benefits that help make them more productive. What are the things every business needs to thrive and how do we attract good new high-tech companies? Volusia should be known as the place taxes are affordable and tangible benefits are received for paying those taxes. We need vibrant downtowns where there are great events for employees, owners, and customers. Public safety, good schools and clean water are essential. Open beaches, outdoor recreation areas, bike lanes, and hiking trails should be our reputation.
That’s not something I made up. That is what research says young people and entrepreneurs require. That is what our own children want. Let’s give them a chance to stay in Volusia to work or start businesses.”
Imagine a place where the quality of life, low taxes, stable government, location, schools of excellence, top-tier research universities, adequate infrastructure, and diverse recreation opportunities were so attractive that it was no longer necessary to provide handouts to billionaires and mega-corporations as “incentives” to locate here?
A place with public swimming pools, multi-purpose parks, greenbelts, beach amenities, and eclectic leisure activities – all donated and maintained by business and industry – as an inducement for allowing them the advantage of establishing their enterprises at the strategic crossroads of Central Florida.
An environment where our contributions, sacrifices, and inconveniences are appreciated and collectively compensated – and we are not expected to give deference and kiss the sizeable asses of astronomically successful billionaires who prospered here – groveling for every giveback as though someone is doing us pissants a favor. . .
The fact is companies like specialty grocer Trader Joe’s and Amazon – the largest online retailer in the known universe – relocated their warehouse operations here because it was logistically advantageous – not because local governments handed them some $6 million collectively.
Had someone at Team Volusia bothered to think outside the box and seek agreements beneficial to the community, I wonder what corporate concessions could have been secured during negotiations for high-volume commercial warehouse operations at the nexus of I-95 and I-4 – with direct access to ports at Tampa, Jacksonville, Canaveral, Everglades, and Miami, a Class II regional railroad providing intermodal service to the east coast of Florida and the Southeast, located immediately adjacent to an “international” airport capable of heavy cargo operations with room to expand in the fastest growing region in the world?
We will never know – because that is not how the game is played. . .
Here, our tax dollars, natural amenities, geographical location, and quality of life is frittered away for the benefit of the few – gifted as cheap spiffs to all the right last names – while the rest of us are forced to deal with the aftermath, traffic congestion, out-of-control sprawl, destruction of greenspace, degradation of our water, springs, rivers, and lakes, and “trickle-down” nickels and dimes – as our elected officials tell us how fortunate we are to have landed more warehouse scutwork and retail jobs at another big box store paying wages that won’t cover basic living expenses.
In my view, it is time We, The Little People learn our worth, and use the power of the ballot box to elect representatives who will stop the pernicious practice of gifting millions in corporate welfare to those who are quick to remind us how fortunate we are to have them – not the other way around.