“When you run for governor on a jobs platform,” Rick Scott quipped on Friday, “it’s good to announce jobs.”
And all it took to boost the governor’s reelect, it seems, was a little old-fashioned bribery, using your tax dollars.
Scott — currently presiding over a state unemployment rate higher than the national average, and falling woefully behind his 2010 campaign promise to add 1.7 million new jobs over seven years — was in town to preen for the cameras at a press conference announcing that GE Oil & Gas was locating a plant here, bringing with it 500 jobs.
For the great honor of having this multibillion-dollar corporation grace us with its presence — a multibillion-dollar corporation, it’s worth noting, making its fortune off a fossil fuel industry that is quite literally destroying our planet — the city of Jacksonville agreed to fork over $10 million, the state another $5 million. Together that works out to something like $30,000 per job.
It’s not, in principle, the incentives that bother me, not really. We are, after all, competing with states and cities all over the country, all of which have their own incentive schemes, and over the years, big corporations have learned to play them like a fiddle. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. And of course there will be positive effects: namely, an influx of educated, skilled and decently paid workers into a local economy desperate for them.
What bothers me is that, while we’re padding the coffers of a company with the net worth of a small nation, we’re not doing much of anything to create the kind of quality of life that attracts innovators and entrepreneurs without these incentives.
Consider this: The same City Council that unanimously approved $10 million for GE last month — and last year found $43 million for Shad Khan’s scoreboards, in an effort to boost attendance and alleviate the ever-present threat of the team’s relocation to a more fertile market — last week embraced the status quo in its annual budget.
Sure, they staved off the 2 percent across-the-board cuts that Richard Clark and his Finance Committee wanted, and the libraries will stay open and the Victims’ Services Center will continue to operate, but this was, at its core, a plodding-along budget, a budget that not-so-politely declined Mayor Brown’s invitation to invest in the city’s future in a meaningful way (though Council had a point about the spend-but-don’t-tax mayor trying to have his cake and eat it, too), a budget that looked at the city’s low tax rates and mediocre services, shrugged and said, “Yeah, OK, whatever.” (And never mind Council’s ongoing failure, and Brown’s noxious tepidity, on the human rights ordinance, which even conservative-leaning business groups think is necessary to compete on the world stage, or at least not look like a backwater.)
Then there’s the state, which has systematically underfunded education for years while enslaving itself to a low-wage tourism economy and gutting funding for environmental programs (the governor’s election-year come-to-Jesus tree-hugging notwithstanding), but has no problem throwing your money at rich people if they promise us nice things.
Welcome to life in the bribery economy.
And hey, at least Rick Scott gets a campaign ad out of the deal.