Tampa City Council gets reassurance on QTI program

The State of Florida's Qualified Target Industry (QTI) Tax Refund is the state's most widely used incentive program, sold as a way to encourage the creation of high skilled jobs. Perhaps the most controversial provision of the program is how it legally allows the company asking for the tax rebate to remain unnamed - until a year after they are granted the refund, or if they opt to "out" themselves, as it were.

Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez questioned Rhea Law, chairwoman of the EDC, if the city could break their commitment to a company in the future regarding tax breaks if it results in the company admitting that it never intended to leave the city (as was the case here with PwC).

Law said that yes, if obligations that the company agreed to were not met, the city could break that agreement.

The way QTI works is that the tax breaks aren't distributed until there is a proven record that the claims that the company makes : in terms of number of jobs they say they'll create, what those salaries will be, and other promises aren't kept.

Although previously members of council (and county commissioners) had criticized the entire process once it was learned that PwC was never intent on leaving, only Frank Reddick was still peeved enough to revisit his personal anguish, saying he was "embarrassed" when he learned by reading a local newspaper that the company was never intent on going anywhere. Reddick wondered if it might be appropriate to have members of the local legislative delegation review the state statute on QTI.

But no other member was as critical, as Law explained that in the competitive business world that exists today, it is crucial to allow companies to give local governments the opportunity to present them with tax packages as an incentive to stay out of the public realm.

And then Law presented three specific measures that she said would go a long way to insure that the recent scenario wouldn't unfold again in the future.

1) a new application form for the company looking for the tax break. That would allow the EDC to go back to the company to verify if the conditions were the same before bringing it to the council (and presumably the county commission).

2) Timing. Rhea says the whole process from beginning to end should take no longer than 30 days, and that as best as possible they will present such a request at regularly scheduled council meetings. The city of Tampa's Urban Development Manager, Bob McDonough, added that he will offer the information about a QTI bid by a local company in front of the council as soon as possible, though he said because of the fluidity of the situation, sometimes that would not be possible. Council members Harry Cohen and Lisa Montelione said that since the new council has been in session, it has never been a problem to convene a special meeting if one needs to take place before the usual Thursday session.

3) Law said that in the future, the city would not be asked to agree to allocate money up front, but simply "identify parameters," which, if ultimately met, meant that company would be eligible for such funds.

In the meantime, PricewaterhouseCoopers will soon begin construction on a $78 building in the West Shore business district, as they continue to make Tampa one of their many corporate homes in the state of Florida (where they have offices in six different parts in all).

Within days of each other last month, both the Hillsborough County Commission and the Tampa City Council approved a combined $1.1 million in local government incentive money after being advised by their respective economic development staffs that if they didn't, the unnamed Tampa company was about to move over 1,600 jobs out of Florida.

But a short while later an official with that company in question, PricewaterhouseCoopers, acknowledged that in fact the company was never bound to leave Tampa.

Cue the outrage.

Because of the negative publicity that ensued after that declaration, PwC then said "never mind," and withdrew its request for the funding.

To insure as best as possible that such a situation doesn't happen again, officials with the Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation addressed the Tampa City Council on Thursday morning with some suggestions.

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