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Crist Signs Trio of Business Bills

Citing the need for the state to do its part to help restart the economy, Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday signed a trio of measures to streamline permitting, protect businesses from arbitrarily high fees and provide an incentive to companies investing in low income communities.

Speaking to reporters in Tallahassee to kick off a statewide, day-long blitz, Crist said the measures taken together will provide businesses with more tools to expand in a tough economy and provide jobs for thousands over the next 10 years.

“These are challenging economic times and our economy is certainly being tested,” Crist said. “People are responding. It’s important for government to do as well. The legislation I will sign here today will keep Florida’s economy moving forward.”

Crist’s whistle-stop tour also included stops in Ocala, St. Augustine and Naples.

Among the measures signed Wednesday, Crist approved HB 227, which shifts the burden of proof to local governments when determining if fees are appropriate. The measure also raises the standard of proof needed to justify a fee.

Ron Weaver, a land use attorney in Tampa, said the measure is a good first step in leveling the playing field, saying the deck has long been stacked in favor of local governments when businesses dispute fee amounts.

“Locally, about 80 percent of the cases go in favor of the local governments because the standards are so deferential to them,” Weaver said.

Crist also signed HB 485. The law seeks to speed up economic recovery through tax credits for companies that make investments in low-income communities. The program is aimed at making Florida more attractive to national investors deciding where to invest money under the federal New Markets Tax Credits program by offering them further state tax credits on the same investment.

The program is expected to generate about $174 million in state revenue over the next 10 years by fostering the creation of more than 2,000 jobs a year.

“It will stimulate job growth, raise household incomes and improve the standard of living for low income families,” Crist said.

Business groups lauded the bill’s passage saying it would provide $250 million in private sector investment in low-income communities within 12 months; according to a study conducted by the Florida-based Washington Economics Group.

“This new law will bring desperately-needed capital to businesses that are looking to grow and add more value to their communities through jobs and tax base expansion,” said Ben Dupuy, executive director of the National Coalition for Capital.

Crist also approved HB 7031, a compendium of measures to modernize the state industrial code, create standard application timeless for state economic development programs and other fixes that state economic development officials say are much needed and long overdue. Many of the proposals were part of Crist’s Accelerate Florida program, which he unveiled last year.

“A lot of this stuff takes more time than we’d like, but here we are crossing the finish line,” said Dale Brill, director of the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.

Still pending is SB 360, a wide-ranging growth management bill. Crist has indicated he will sign the measure, which has drawn fire from environmentalists and support for Florida business groups.

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