IMG Academy no 'turkey,' deserves state aid for its value to economy

May 18, 2013 

In its annual budget analysis designed to ferret out spending that received little if any public review and bypassed the state's competitive process, Florida TaxWatch only cited one Manatee County allocation as a "Budget Turkey." The list of 107 projects totaling $106.8 million in the Legislature's budget includes $2.3 million for IMG Academy.

The global sports performance juggernaut -- in the midst of a $36 million, 100-acre expansion -- seeks state assistance in order to attract additional events from around the country and world. With a new sports complex and stadium, IMG will open its gates to the public for the first time for new and returning competitions.

While TaxWatch urged Gov. Rick Scott to veto turkey projects upon Thursday's release of the list, the governor sent IMG a letter that indicates approval -- with a caveat.

In an extraordinary request, Scott asked the academy to justify the allocation and to return the taxpayer investment should the project fail to meet specified expectations.

IMG's turkey listing is not based on the merits of the project, as TaxWatch admits, but on other factors.

The nonprofit public policy research institute selects appropriations that "appear in the budget at the last minute, bypassing the legislatively-established competitive process and receiving little or no public review."

The funding request for IMG went through weeks of legislative scrutiny, falling from $3 million to $2.3 million in the process. The public had plenty of time to review the allocation and vet IMG. This was not a competitive bidding situation.

By TaxWatch's own criteria, how can this possibly be rated a turkey?

IMG is Bradenton's economic hotshot, exerting a $517 million economic impact on the region last year. With a calendar chock-full of events, the academy annually attracts some 200,000 athletes, coaches and spectators from around the globe to our region, filling more than 25,000 hotel rooms last year alone.

With additional events, new venues open to the public and state-money to promote new competitions, IMG is a shoo-in to meet and likely exceed projections. The governor need not worry about this taxpayer investment.

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