Visit Florida budget battle heating up

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
March 14, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Florida’s lead tourism agency could lose $75 million in state funding in if lawmakers don’t reauthorize the program, which appears possible.

Funding for Visit Florida is shaping up to become a contentious issue between the House and Senate.

“When we have issues come up like Mathew, Michael and Irma as well as red tide, they make sure that people know that we are open for business,” said State Senator Joe Gruters, who is sponsoring legislation to continue funding the program.

In the bill's final Senate committee hearing Thursday, State Senators from areas hit by natural disasters said the program is important.

“Visit Florida has been there in all of the best times, but most specifically in all of the worst times,” said Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Visit Florida is no stranger to controversy.

Questionable spending decisions, like paying Miami rapper Pit Bull $1 million to appear in an ad, have led some to question whether the state is getting a return on its investment.

While the Senate is already prepared to take Visit Florida funding to the chamber floor, the House hasn’t scheduled it for a single hearing.

House Speaker Jose Oliva doesn’t intend to change that.

“We need to fund Visit Florida until it expires and beyond that we haven't had any intention,” said Oliva.

Visit Florida CEO Dana Young argues Florida gets $2 back in tax revenue generated by tourists for every dollar spent on the program.

“If the budget were cut to zero there would be a hole in the budget next year, rough numbers of $160 million out of general revenue,” said Young.

With less money that could mean cuts somewhere else.
Governor Ron DeSantis requested $75 million for Visit Florida in his proposed budget.

He says he’s confident the legislature will work out a deal to keep the advertisements flowing.



 
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