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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Rep. Eskamani files bill to repeal tax credit program exploited by Universal Orlando

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2021 at 4:08 PM

  • Photo courtesy Universal Orlando/Facebook
Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, has filed legislation to eliminate a corporate tax break regularly used — and abused — by big businesses including, in our own backyard, Universal Orlando.

The bill, HB 6043, would repeal the Urban High-Crime Area Job Tax Credit Program which has been on the books since 1997. The tax break was originally meant to draw businesses and investment to low-income urban areas in Florida. But that's not quite how things have worked out.

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel in September, over the last two decades Universal Orlando and its hotels have received nearly $17.4 million in tax breaks through this program, almost half of the $34.8 million total awarded to date. (Walmart has raked in millions from this program as well.)

Some of the original sponsors of the bill have turned against what has essentially become a taxpayer handout for corporations. Former State Sen. James Hargrett, who helped establish this program. called Universal's use of this credit "an abuse of what we intended," way back in 2013 during a Sentinel interview. (He reiterated this stance in 2020.)

Why, even current Florida Education Commissioner and then-Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran called the program "a waste of money" and "a money grab for Fortune 500 companies," in 2017, amid an earlier unsuccessful effort to repeal the program.

With Florida facing down a budget shortfall amid a pandemic-related economic crisis, Eskamani is betting now is the right time to revisit these taxpayer subsidies to big corporations.

“Florida is suffering through a deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has been disastrously mismanaged by our leaders in Tallahassee,” Eskamani said in a press statement. “Floridians need help, and we need to deliver it to them. And one of the ways we can do that is by eliminating wasteful corporate tax breaks like this one that do nothing but pad the profits of politically influential corporations and instead use the money to deliver real relief to real people.”

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