OPINION: New report outlines out of control corporate corruption in Florida

OPINION: New report outlines out of control corporate corruption in Florida

Florida has become a piggy bank for wealthy corporations. That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from a secret list of the wealthiest corporations in the state, companies that are currently receiving a $624 million tax refund, after already receiving a refund of $543 million in 2020 during the outset of the pandemic.

Two bills, HB 7093, signed by then-Governor Rick Scott in 2018, and HB7127, signed by current Governor Ron DeSantis in 2019, are facilitating this transfer of funds from working Floridians to the very wealthy. While 99% of Florida businesses won’t get a penny from the current $624 million giveaway, 10 corporate giants will get around $11 million each.

That amount of money going to subsidize big corporations making record profits is bad enough, but it’s just scratching the surface. A report put together by Florida For All, a coalition of advocacy organizations in the state, details how Ron DeSantis and his legislative allies have spent more than $5.7 billion in corporate tax giveaways since taking office.

That’s more than six times what DeSantis and the Republican-led Legislature have invested in affordable housing trust funds, and even more money has been allocated to these massive companies through state-based legislation.

The report by Florida For All highlights the overwhelming influence in the legislative process by corporate donors like Big Sugar producers Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar; energy monopoly Florida Power & Light; for-profit hospital chain HCA Healthcare; the Walt Disney Company; health insurer Florida Blue; private-prison operate Geo Group; low-wage employer Wal-Mart; and big developers like The Vestcor Companies.

The return on investment for these corporations is clear. In 2020, DeSantis vigorously opposed a multi-year minimum wage increase of $15 an hour that was fortunately approved by Florida voters by 60 percent via a ballot initiative. Ron DeSantis might play the part of a populist sticking it to corporations on behalf of the little guy, but when it came to raising our wages, he was quick to spout out talking points from special interests looking to pay poverty wages.

The Legislature is right behind DeSantis when it comes to ensuring a rigged economy stacked against working people and small business owners. Republican lawmakers have ensured passage of several permanent tax breaks and budget earmarks benefiting corporate donors and voted down a proposal to close corporate tax loopholes that are supported by big-business front groups which have given millions to DeSantis and his legislative allies. Those tax loopholes cost Floridians $500 million a year in revenue that could otherwise be used to benefit working families.

It’s not all about what Ron DeSantis and his allies did for their wealthy corporate donors but also what they didn’t do for working-class Floridians. Proposals to solve Florida’s skyrocketing rents, property insurance hikes, unemployment system, and ensure access to healthcare all fell by the wayside.

The system is so shamelessly rigged in the state that 99% of companies pay no corporate income tax and the lowest-income Floridians pay five and a half times as much in taxes as a share of their household income as the state’s wealthiest residents. Florida’s tax system remains among the most inequitable in the nation, ranking 48th among all states.

Floridians need to ask themselves, what has Ron DeSantis — and twenty years of Republican control in this state — done for me and my family? Rent prices are out of control. Property insurance is through the roof. Utility rates increase year after year. Healthcare remains inaccessible for 800,000 low-income Floridians due to Republicans refusing to expand Medicaid.

In Florida, politicians facilitate the rich getting richer, while the poor are increasingly squeezed dry. It’s unsustainable, unfair, and unacceptable.

Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from@tomaskenn.

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Thomas Kennedy

is a reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.