The Florida Legislature has a quirky tradition to mark the end of its annual legislative session. As the chambers wrap up their final vote, the sergeant-at-arms of both the Senate and the House of Representatives meet outside and drop handkerchiefs. Afterwards, the governor and legislative leaders deliver speeches.
This year, advocates and organizers fighting to create a more equitable Florida interrupted this ceremony. Instead of handkerchiefs, they dumped 10,000 fake hundred dollar bills on Governor Ron DeSantis and other lawmakers who preside over corrupt corporate giveaways and pro-business policies at the expense of working class Floridians.
Rather than addressing urgent needs like properly funding affordable housing or public education, the recently-passed budget includes a whopping $624 million refund to wealthy corporations.
The Florida Legislature rubber-stamping a pro-corporate agenda is history repeating itself.
In 2018, then-Governor Rick Scott signed into law HB 7093, which lowered the corporate income tax rate from 5.5 to 4.458 percent, resulting in $543 million in tax refunds to some of the wealthiest companies in the state. This money was paid out in Spring 2020 under DeSantis’ watch, as Florida’s economy cratered in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. In 2019, the majority-Republican Florida legislature passed HB 7127, which extended corporate tax refunds for two more years, resulting in the $624 million payout to corporations in the just-passed budget. Gov. DeSantis and the legislature could have stopped these giveaways – but chose not to.
Last year, lawmakers approved $1 billion in new tax collections from consumers while leaving corporate tax evasion tactics untouched. As a result, 99 percent of Florida companies pay no corporate income tax due to easily exploited loopholes. Altogether, HB 7093 and HB 7127 have saved the top 1 percent of businesses in Florida an estimated $3.7 billion. That’s the equivalent of nearly two decades of spending on affordable housing. Housing costs are increasing more in Florida than anywhere else in the country: rents have skyrocketed in Miami and Orlando by 39 and 20 percent respectively. Imagine if those billions had been invested in solving this crisis instead of lining already wealthy pockets.
This exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars going to companies making record profits is bad enough on its own – but Florida’s business lobby didn’t stop there. Despite DeSantis’ supposed priority to impose strong new data-privacy protections on companies, special interests managed to kill that bill for a second year in a row. Corporate interests also successfully passed what has been called the “mother of all preemptions,” allowing corporations to sue local governments if they pass an ordinance that impacts at least 15 percent of their profits. Teams of corporate lawyers will soon be able to potentially stop wage theft ordinances, minimum wage raises, anti-pollution initiatives, and other laws that would benefit working Floridians.
It’s easy to see how cozy relationships between elected officials like DeSantis and corporate elites influence public policy. Thomas Peterffy, the billionaire chairman of Interactive Brokers, has donated $250,000 to the Governor’s political action committee, and openly calls DeSantis “my favorite man.” Citadel’s billionaire owner Ken Griffin also ranks as one of the Governor’s top donors.
Florida is in dire straits. Only one other state in the nation has a worse ranking on income inequality. Florida is also near the bottom of other state rankings, coming in 48th in tax fairness and 44th in education spending. These results clearly indicate that policies which prioritize corporate interests over Florida taxpayers simply do not work. The Sunshine State cannot continue to operate as a piggy bank for corporations and the ultra-wealthy while millions of its residents are crushed under the weight of stagnant wages and rising costs of living.