January 29, 2007

How business is done in Florida

Since the mid 1990s, state and local governments in Florida have showered hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax breaks, cash and other incentives on a select few companies that promise to create or retain jobs here.

Sometimes the new jobs don't materialize or stay for long, however. Some firms getting incentives pay so little that some of their new employees qualify for government health care. Some firms add jobs in one Florida city while laying off workers in another. And some probably would have boosted employment without incentives. [....]

When Office Depot broke ground on a new headquarters complex in November, outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush issued a news release praising the company for creating hundreds of jobs.

Office Depot was moving less than 5 miles, from Delray Beach to Boca Raton. Florida and Palm Beach County had promised a $15 million incentive package to help pay for the expansion.

A real estate firm run by Bush's former business partner, Armando Codina, stands to benefit. That firm is part owner of the land, and it will develop the 28-acre corporate campus and lease it to Office Depot. [....]

Codina, a longtime friend of former President George Bush, hired Jeb Bush in the early 1980s to sell and lease real estate and ultimately renamed his business Codina Bush. Codina gave Jeb Bush, with no personal investment, 40 percent of the real estate company's profits plus chances to invest in other ventures. After Jeb Bush became governor in 1999, Codina said, he was careful not to use his connections with Bush on personal or business matters.

Still, the two men remained close. Gov. Bush appointed Codina to the board of trustees of Florida International University. During Bush's tenure, Codina-run businesses stood to gain from state decisions to offer incentives to several companies, including Kraft Foods, Burger King and Office Depot. But a Codina spokesman said the firm is unaware of any incentives those clients received.

Update - Feb. 1, 2007 - St. Petersburg Times editorial:

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