TAMPA (FOX 13) - Former state senator James Hargrett wrote and sponsored a law to give tax credits to blighted, high-crime areas. But for years, he's told us the intent of his law is being abused.
The law allows businesses to qualify for tax credits, ranging from $500 to $2,000, for each new job created in a designated high-crime area that, according to the law:
- Chronically exhibits extreme and unacceptable levels of poverty, unemployment, physical deterioration, and economic disinvestment
- Is a blight on the community as a whole
- Tarnishes the image and reputation of the community in the eyes of its residents
- Reduces the desirability of the community as a place to visit and live
However, state records show tax credits intended to help revitalize high-crime areas have been flowing into Orlando's theme park and resort district, which includes the Universal theme parks and several high-end shops and resort hotels.
In effect, the same area Florida promotes as world class, kid-friendly vacation getaway is also mired in extreme levels of poverty, deterioration and crime -- at least for tax credit purposes.
Meanwhile, blighted parts of Tampa do not even qualify for the credits due to the manner in which high-crime areas are drawn by local governments and approved by the state.
"It's depressing," said Hargrett. "We intended for these funds to go to help revitalize depressed communities -- not go to some theme park."
Hargrett was referring to Universal Orlando Resort. State records show Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity approved Universal for $2.2-million in credits last year. It was approved for $1.7-million in 2014.
Also, in 2014, records show the state approved $30,000 in high-crime-zone tax credits for Orlando's Perfumeland.
Alejandro Pezzini said he's the COO and that it is not a high-crime zone anymore.
"This is a great place to visit all the great attractions around us," he told FOX 13.
Universal, Perfumeland, and all other businesses in Orlando that have applied for these credits are not doing anything wrong. They are just following the boundaries approved by the Legislature, and receiving an incentive for being in what their government has defined as a high-crime area.
Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran wants to reform this program. He's particularly concerned by a state analysis that found these credits cost more than they deliver in jobs and revenue for Florida.
"It's a loser for the state," insisted Corcoran. "For every dollar we spend, we get seven cents back. So we're losing 93 cents for every dollar."
Corcoran also raised concerns about the effectiveness of the tax credit program in fighting crime and blight.
"If you look at the bulk of the funding, it's going to big companies -- Fortune 500 companies. We need to create more entrepreneurs in those spaces, not just hand big tax giveaways to Fortune 500 companies," he continued. "The second thing is we don't even go in and reevaluate. So when Universal does go in there, they build and change that community, and now is it still high crime? We haven't even measured and looked at crime statistics prior to their entry and after to see if that credit should even be in existence anymore, and obviously it shouldn't."