Money, Money, Money
We’ve been hearing a lot of talk about money, government money, which is to say your and my money, lately.
The Commissioners of Lee County voted to pledge $4.6 million in county funds to a mystery corporation, now known as Hertz.
The state of Florida offered $12 million, plus $68 million in tax credits.
Add that all up and we’re talking about some real money. Whether it’s tax credits or money paid outright, that's over $84 million that otherwise would have been available for state or county spending needs.
This is the state that refused to expand Medicare, walking away from $500 million in federal dollars (again, yours and mine) to expand Medicaid funding for the poor, choosing to dump the costs of uninsured Floridians on hospitals who then pass it along to all of us. But what do our legislators know about the reality of health care insurance. Members of the Florida House pay less than $9 per month for single coverage; $30/month for family. Senators pay $50/month. If you write the check for your family’s health care insurance, you know how laughable that is. Wouldn’t we all love to have family coverage for $30/month? Where do we sign up?
While our legislators were wrestling with health insurance and end of session challenges, Governor Scott was readying the multi-million dollar package to attract Hertz to Florida and Lee County.
Will it be good to have a major corporate headquarters in Lee County? Sure. It shows that our area has the amenities that executives look for in both their business and personal lives. This is a great place to live and work. So, why does it require an $84 million carrot to bring them here? Short answer – because if we didn’t offer it, someplace else would.
Does our county have the funds to pay Hertz to move here? That’s up for debate. In recent years, our county has been spending more than it takes in, using reserves that are just about depleted.
In most of our personal lives, if income is less than expenses, charitable giving takes a big hit.But is the $4.6 million a gift or an investment? That remains to be seen. Will the $4.6 million eventually result in increased county income to fund all the county’s needs, like roads, parks, public safety, transportation, emergency management and the like?
Sadly, there is no way to measure that accurately. Many will guess and you’ve heard the figures bandied about regarding what Hertz’s arrival will mean for the area. But the bottom line is – those are all guesses, and they’ll remain guesses because there is no accurate measure.
This week the county agreed to amend an incentive agreement with Source Interlink to allow them to keep a quarter million dollars after they failed to meet the terms of the original contract from 2009. They promised to add jobs and they actually reduced the number of jobs. This time they’re again promising to add 50 jobs within two years. We’ll see.
And then there’s VR Labs, recipient of almost $5 million in 2011. That project sure looks dead in the water with VR Labs tied up in legal battles with building contractors.Economic incentives are always a risky undertaking, but does the learning curve need to be so expensive to county taxpayers?
In a county that is $116 million in debt for baseball stadiums, it gives pause even though that debt is to be paid by using 20% of the TDC bed tax dollars; it’s not general fund dollars.
Yet, for those of us on Fort Myers Beach who pay attention to the annual rite of TDC requests and know the slightly queasy feeling caused by the need to beg for some of that money for the beach, knowing that the beach is a top visitor destination – it just seems a bit wrong. That 20% could be used to improve our beach and bay accesses, or let’s go crazy here – it could be used to improve access to and transportation on the beach.
But no, Estero Blvd, owned by the county, is somehow seen as "our” problem. If they can’t solve it by widening the road, then it must be unsolvable. If we ask just right, and badger to keep the focus on the problem, we may be granted partial funding for Estero renovations. What we don’t hear is anyone from the county offering anything that will lessen traffic on Estero. There are no plans for remote parking lots or shuttles or public transit solutions. We don’t hear the Convention and Visitors Bureau or the Tourist Development Council demanding that access to and transportation on the beach be made a county priority if we’re serious about serving tourists and visitors.
It seems that "out of the box” solutions are supposed to be ours to come up with. And if it were just the 6,000 Beach residents traveling that road – it would be our responsibility. But it’s not. Estero is a major county road serving the over 2 million county visitors who come to the beach each year. While we are struggling to come up with solutions that we can’t fund or even approve, only suggest, $4.6 million is pledged to Hertz from the county; $12 million from the state and another $68 million in state tax credit.
Meanwhile, with seemingly insurmountable traffic problems, we hear that the county does not have enough money for Estero Blvd. Just doesn’t seem right, does it?