TALLAHASSEE — A hearing on a bill that would give Darden Restaurants a tax break of as much as $5 million a year was postponed Wednesday after the sponsor asked for more time to address recent questions about the legislation.
Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, asked the House Finance and Tax Committee to wait a week before voting on his bill (HB 1069), which would expand the annual tax credits that Orlando-based Darden receives as part of an incentive package it got to build a $152 million corporate headquarters that opened in September 2009 in south Orange County.
The Orlando Sentinel reported Wednesday morning that the legislation had been written so that Darden, the Fortune 500 company that owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants, would be the only business that could receive the expanded tax credits. Dorworth told the Sentinel on Tuesday that he did not realize until this week that his legislation, which was filed March 1 and had already moved through one House committee, would benefit only Darden. An identical measure in the Senate (SB 1470) has also cleared one committee so far.
"There have been some revelations around this bill," Dorworth told members of the House Finance and Tax Committee.
After Wednesday's meeting, Dorworth said he intends to rewrite the legislation to incorporate more businesses, though he said he has not yet determined how he will do so. "Still working through that," he said.
Allowing more companies to qualify for the new tax credits would raise the price tag at a time when the Legislature is weighing deep spending cuts to all areas of the state budget to erase a nearly $4 billion deficit. But Dorworth said he would not support the legislation if only one business benefits.
"I don't ever think the Legislature should play favorites with a particular corporation," Dorworth said.
Darden says the legislation would allow it to realize the full value of the incentives it negotiated in 2006 and 2007 to build its new headquarters in Orlando. Those initial incentives included annual credits against the company's state corporate-income tax that were worth as much as $7.5 million or so a year; Darden has not been able to redeem the full value of those credits, however, because its corporate-income-tax bill hasn't been large enough.
The legislation would allow Darden to take as much as $5 million a year worth of those corporate-income-tax credits and apply them to its sales-tax liability. Darden says it would use the tax savings to help it build more restaurants in Florida, on top of the 209 it already has in the state.
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