To those of us active in Palm Beach County politics at the time it was sold as our Disney World. A job creator to rival nothing else in the nation, Jeb Bush and local legislators, most of whom were Democrats used every little bit of hyperbole to sell the relocation of Scripps biotech research facility to local constituents and the legislature as a whole. In 2003, most of us believed that Mecca Farms (the area Scripps was originally supposed to occupy) would be a bustling worldwide biotech hub, creating jobs, stimulating the local economy and encouraging high end tourism, and research. My concerns about the facility were purely environmental as I did not want the Mecca Farms area built on. When the proposed site was moved to Abacoa, the objections I and others previously had voiced, largely disappeared.
On Saturday, I heralded the Scripps relocation as one of the few bright spots in an otherwise poor decade of job creation and corporate recruitment by Florida’s Republican led Legislature and Cabinet. Well as it turns out the Sun Sentinel on Sunday has raised significant doubts about whether the Scripps deal was worth it financially for both the state and Palm Beach County.
Between 2003 and 2006, Governor Bush would repeatedly cite the Scripps deal in discussions about other matters. When opposing gambling initiatives in southeast Florida, Bush cited Scripps as the” right way” to create local jobs as opposed to gambling which was the “wrong way.” (I personally supported Bush’s campaign against gambling and was present for some of these speeches.) When trying to pass tax exemptions for other corporate entities in 2005, both Bush and his allies in legislature (including then House Speaker Designee now US Senator Marco Rubio) repeatedly cited Scripps as a proof positive of how tax exemptions can create jobs and develop new industry in Florida.
In hindsight, Bush’s promises were unrealistic and the cost to Palm Beach County taxpayers has been catastrophic. Palm Beach County is so financially periled that a few years ago they had to consider quitting Tri-Rail, the southeast Florida commuter rail line rode by thousands each day.
Job creation is not without risk. It’s foolish and naive to think legislators and Governor Bush could just wave a magic wand and create jobs. However, Bush’s boasts about the impact of Scripps not only on Palm Beach County but the entire state of Florida were so far from the mark, he must be held accountable for that. Since Bush choose to continue promoting Scripps as the reason to pass more tax incentives/cuts and it brought Palm Beach County to its knees, the boondoggle the Sun Sentinel reported on must be considered when debating future tax cuts, tax rebates and tax incentives.
Failure to learn from recent history and to put in perspective the continued rhetoric of Republican leaders about job creation will lead us right into another Scripps-like debacle.