Even though he claims he “puts people first,” Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca fought the repeal of a local small business tax which funds an group comprised of elite businessmen. The Local Business Tax (LBT) revenue is used to fund the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, a group of “top leaders in Broward County who are involved include business, government, academia and community leaders.” LaMarca serves as a member of the Alliance’s executive committee along with bank executives, law firm partners and even the chairman of Florida Power and Light (FPL).
Formerly known as an “occupational license,” the local business tax hurts the formation of small businesses. The LBT is capped at $150 dollars which is nothing to a large firm like Kaplan or Citrix. Broward county offers a confusing list of the taxes owed by a business depending upon its size and industry. A mom and pop motel on the beach could pay a higher tax based upon the number of rooms than the Ritz Carlton hotel. The onerous tax applies to restaurants, contractors and even the circus.
COMMISSIONER LAMARCA FIGHTS TAX REPEAL IN TALLAHASSEE
In 2012, Florida lawmakers sought the repeal of the local business tax. In order to stop the legislation, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance dispatched Chip LaMarca to Tallahassee. In an article for The Light magazine, LaMarca said, “I asked the committee to reevaluate pending legislation, Florida House Bill 319, intended to repeal the local business tax…. If the LBT is repealed, Broward will lose approximately $3 million per year that is currently reinvested back into the community for economic development programs that create and retain jobs right here in our community.”
On January 11, 2012, LaMarca appeared before the Florida House Community and Military Affairs Subcommittee to make the case for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.
In a powerpoint presentation, LaMarca stated the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance’s mission was, “To lead Broward County in building a stronger and more diverse economy…By promoting increased public/private sector collaboration, delivering business development initiatives focused on new investment and job growth, enhancing the competitiveness of Broward’s business climate and driving regional initiatives.” Between 2007 and 2011, Broward County collected $5,242, 522 through the local business tax.
On its website, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance states, “Broward County government, through its Office of Economic and Small Business Development, works as a partner with the Alliance to grow and diversify Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward’s economy. They are our largest funding provider and we are very appreciative of their support.” In his presentation to the Florida House, LaMarca claimed the Alliance had received $4,816,460 in local business tax revenue. The Office of Economic and Small Business Development (OESBD) received just $426,062. LaMarca claimed the local business tax revene helped attract or retain businesses such as DHL, Aetna, Kaplan University and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
Recent reports show the Broward Office of Economic and Small Business Development (OESBD) may be more inclined to help the well-connected political class over average small business people.
AIRPORT CONCESSIONS CONTRACT AWARDED TO GOVERNMENT LAWYER
Last week, RED BROWARD reported OESBD officials rushed the Federal minority small business certification process which helped Burnadette Norris-Weeks land a million dollar concession contract at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Norris-Weeks, the attorney for the Broward Supervisior of Elections Office (SOE), recently represented SOE in cases involving County Commissioners Kristin Jacobs and Dale Holness. In July, RED BROWARD reported Commissioner Dale Holness danced with Norris-Weeks at a Denver airport conference. This came just one month before his role in the District 2 write-in candidate controversy was revealed in open court. In early June, Holness and Norris-Weeks attended the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) conference. Norris-Weeks attended the conference to promote her company Right Consulting LLC.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) program is supposed to increase opportunities for minority and women-owned small businesses to operate as concessionaires in airports around the country. Locally, Broward County Office of Economic and Small Business Development (OESBD) “works to certify local firms as ACDBEs and to establish annual ACDBE participation goals for the County’s airport projects.” In order to retain its food and concession contracts at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, The Paradies Shops needed to comply with the ACDBE guidelines. In 2006, the County Commission sought to end Paradies monopoly over airport concessions. Paradies formed Paradies-Broward LLC. According to State of Florida corporate records, Paradies-Broward LLC was comprised of four members: The Paradies Shops, JD Ruffin Associates Inc., Maria Soldani Consulting LLC and Right Consulting LLC. Burnadette Norris-Weeks is listed as a member of Paradies-Broward LLC.
Records obtained from the Broward Office of Economic and Small Business Development show Norris-Weeks made Judith DeBourg her partner in September 2006.
Like Burnadette Norris-Weeks, Judith DeBourg had no experience with airport concessions. However, DeBourg had close ties to a Broward politician. In May 1999, Buddy Nevins wrote DeBourg used her political connections to secure airport business. Nevins wrote, “Broward County commissioners this week handed an airport contract to Judith Debourg. Debourg got her work the old-fashioned way at the governmental center. She was Commissioner Kristin Jacobs’ campaign manager.” DeBourg had no shame. “It didn’t hurt to know the right people,” Debourg said. Jacobs dismissed accusations DeBourg got the contract due to her political ties. Jacobs said, “[DeBourg] deserves the work. She’ll do a great job.”
On her 2006 OESBD application, Norris-Weeks stated Right Consulting’s gross revenue was just $1,200. In 2012, Right Consulting’s gross receipts ballooned to $100,784. A 2013 OESBD memorandum states Right Consulting LLC enjoyed gross receipts of $7, 067, 873.07.
PROJECT CARDINAL HELPS OBAMACARE
Last April, the Broward County Commission voted on a item which benefited a pro-Obamacare medical company. According to this report, Florida politicians lined up to hand subsidies to the Centene Corporation, a Missouri health management corporation that padded its profits through Obamacare. Dubbed “PROJECT CARDINAL,” the plan called on local governments and the State of Florida to give millions of taxpayer dollars to Centene under the Florida Qualified Targeted Industry (QTI) incentive program. The QTI program is intended to help retain and expand businesses that provide high-end jobs to Florida residents.
Sunshine Health, the Florida-based subsidiary of Centene, was the “big winner” of 2013 Florida long-term care contracts. According to the Sun-Sentinel, Sunshine Health is “doubling its workforce in South Florida to provide services to low-income seniors and the disabled.” Nevertheless, it appears Sunshine Health needs more taxpayer money to help reduce those costs.
The Broward County Commission voted on a proposal to give Sunshine Health taxpayer incentives through 2018. Under its Direct Cash/Job Creation incentive program, county taxpayers would give the healthcare company $50,000 to subsidize the “creation of 265 high-wage/high skill jobs.” The County Commission agenda item refers only to “Project Cardinal.” The item does not mention Sunshine Health by name.
The South Florida Business Journal reported the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance helped arrange the Project Cardinal deal.
Broward voters may want to ask LaMarca and the other Commissioners when the average citizen and business owner will be put first over the well-connected and elites of Broward County.