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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Economic Development Key Issue This Election Year



Economic development, through the use of tax abatements and direct payments of taxpayer dollars to select corporations, had never been much of a deciding political issue in Brevard County.  


But Brevard voters are now taking a more skeptical look at economic development and questioning whether taxpayers are actually getting all of the benefits promised by economic development advocates following:


1. The arrest of Mitch Needelman in the BlueWare scandal; 
2. Less than 1,000 jobs confirmed in 7 years after spending over $10 million;
3. Taxpayer-funded trips to Singapore and Paris;
4. The County Commission's refusal to audit the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast (EDC);
4. The EDC's refusal to comply with a public records request;
5. The Department of Labor investigation into Brevard Workforce for possible cronyism;
6. The multimillion dollar settlements by the Technological Research Development Authority and the Melbourne Airport Authority following a Department of Justice's False Claims Act investigation.  
7. The federal indictment of Thomas Biddix; and  
8. $6.5 million taxpayer dollars given to Miracle City Mall developers through the North Brevard Economic Development Zone (NBEDZ).


Beyond the scandals and negative publicity economic development organizations in Brevard have helped to generate in the last few years, there is a fundamental philosophical issue of whether government should be intervening in the free market at all by picking winners and losers.  


Local supporters and opponents of the status quo have fallen into two political camps.

 
The most outspoken supporters of government intervention in the free market under the banner of economic development are:

Select companies that financially benefit directly or indirectly from the government aid;
FLORIDA TODAY, which holds a seat on the EDC board and received over $50k for a substandard website from the Tourism Development Council (TDC);
FLORIDA TODAY opinion columnist Matt Reed;
NBEDZ, TDC, CRA, and EDC officers, board members, and employees;
Lobbyists;
BlueWare CEO Rose Harr;
Former Clerk of Court Mitch Needelman;
County Commission District 4 candidates Richard Charbonneau (R) and Lisa McDermott (R)
County Commission District 2 candidate Jim Barfield (R); and 
Brevard County Commissioner Robin Fisher (D).


The most outspoken opponents of government intervention in the free market under the banner of economic development are:

Brevard County companies that are placed at a disadvantage when their direct competitors receive government handouts (e.g. Searstown Mall and Mack Technologies);
Conservative radio talk show host Bill Mick;
Tea Party organizer Matt Nye;
Brevard County Clerk of Court Scott Ellis;
County Commission District 2 candidate Michael Hartman (R);
County Commission District 4 candidates Curt Smith (R) and Randall Victor (Vic) Brungart (NPA); and 
Brevard County Commissioner Trudie Infantini (R).



Since the Brevard County Commission races will likely be decided in the Republican primary, it will be up to Brevard County Republican voters to decide the economic policy future for the Space Coast.  Therefore, it is helpful to look at the national Republican Party platforms for some insight on Republican economic policy.


"Today’s Democratic Party views the tax code as a tool for social engineering. They use it to control our behavior, steer our choices, and change the way we live our lives. The Republican Party will put a stop to both social engineering and corporate handouts by simplifying tax policy, eliminating special deals, and putting those saved dollars back into the taxpayers’ pockets." (Emphasis added.)


A similar stance was re-affirmed in the Republican Party's 2012 economic platform

"Taxes, by their very nature, reduce a citizen’s freedom. Their proper role in a free society should be to fund services that are essential and authorized by the Constitution, such as national security, and the care of those who cannot care for themselves. We reject the use of taxation to redistribute income, fund unnecessary or ineffective programs, or foster the crony capitalism that corrupts both politicians and corporations."
(Emphasis added.)



When the current economic development policies in Brevard County are held against those standards espoused by the national GOP, it appears that the Republicans (Curt Smith and Michael Hartman) who are ideologically similar to Ellis, Infantini, and Mick, are more politically consistent with the GOP economic platform than the Republicans (Jim Barfield, Richard Charbonneau, and Lisa McDermott) who are more politically aligned with Florida Today, Fisher, and/or the EDC.  


It is still far too early in the election season to predict who will win the Commission races.  But regardless of the outcome, we will learn this August just how ideologically aligned Brevard County Republican voters are with the national GOP economic platforms and also what impact the recent (and ongoing) economic development scandals have had on the County Commission races.


RELATED STORIES:

FIRST LOOK: 2014 Candidates for County Commission District 2

FIRST LOOK: 2014 Candidates for County Commission District 4

EDC Job Creation In Doubt As Brevard County Budget Nears

Miami Herald: 6,100 jobs promised for Brevard, 0 confirmed

Creating Scandals Instead of Jobs: The Failures of Privatized State Economic Development Agencies

Tampa Bay Times: New frontier for Space Coast jobs