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House plan to overhaul Florida tourism revenue not welcome by industry, counties

NewsHouse plan to overhaul Florida tourism revenue not welcome by industry, counties

TALLAHASSEE – Tourism officials from spancross the stspante urged a House panel Tuesday to reject span proposspanl they say threatens the advertising and promotion of everything from local festivals to Floridspan itself when forced to try to bounce back from devastating hurricanes. 

Lawmakers listened. 

Then, ruling Republicans voted in favor of the fiercely opposed measure, which would dramatically overhaul county tourist development revenue spending and the state’s lead marketing agency, Visit Florida. 

Critics argued the measure would effectively kill the state’s tourist industry. But a supporter tried to ease the outrage. 

“This is part of the process. This is the first stop,” said Rep. Mike Gispanllombspanrdo, R-Cape Coral, who presented the late-emerging bill to the House Regulspantory Reform &spanmp; Economic Development subcommittee. 

Giallombardo tried to assure opponents filling the hearing room that he “would try to work with all the folks.” 

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Passing the hat for Visit Florida

The legislation would require the state’s 62 tourist development councils – only five Florida counties don’t have them – to contribute a portion of their locally collected tourist development taxes to finance Visit Florida for the next three years. 

Otherwise, the House would wipe out Visit Florida, having included no money for the agency in its budget proposal. The Senate recommends $80 million for the agency, while Gov. Ron DeSantis is seeking $100 million. 

Visit Florida received $50 million from lawmakers last year and is considered by tourism advocates as instrumental in helping the industry recover from last fall’s Hurricane Ian. 

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House bill to overhaul where tourism dollars are spent draws outrage from industry and counties.

It also played a central role in selling Florida after the 2008 recession and during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, supporters said. 

But Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, the state’s business recruiting arm, have long been targeted by House leaders for extinction. House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, is the latest in charge of wielding a budget ax and he’s been outspoken in condemning Enterprise Florida, although quieter on Visit Florida. 

Giallombardo said records show county tourist development councils are benefiting from larger-than-expected tax receipts and the share sought from each would be modest. All told, Visit Florida would receive about $75 million in funding next year, redirected from the counties.

Public support is scant

The only organization publicly endorsing Tuesday’s legislation was Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group founded by the conservative Koch family. 

Along with financing Visit Florida, the legislation also would require counties to hold voter referenda every six years to renew their tourist development taxes. At least 60% of voters would have to support the tax, under the legislation, making such referenda both costly and politically risky, opponents said. 

Democrats on the committee said they were puzzled why any of the changes were needed. 

“I think we’re trying to fix something that’s not broken,” said Rep. Joe Casello, D-Boynton Beach. 

Opponents leave no doubt

Tourism and county officials were adamant in their opposition. 

“This is a really bad piece of legislation,” said Michael Corrigan, president and CEO of Visit Jacksonville. 

Bob McKee, with the Florida Association of Counties, said that “tourism is the tide that lifts all of Florida’s economy,” and that the proposed changes would undermine the ability to promote the state. 

Along with local tourist development councils, hospitality associations, and representatives of Florida attractions, groups opposed included the state’s biggest business lobbies, Associated Industries of Florida and the state’s Chamber of Commerce. 

These business groups rarely cross swords with DeSantis or the Republican-dominated Legislature. Their opposition fueled the possibility that the legislation revamping Florida tourism is potentially just a bargaining position for the House in what will soon be budget negotiations with the Senate. 

Even Republicans who voted for the measure seemed wary of the direction they were headed. 

“Hopefully we can get it in a better posture than what it is right now,” Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, said of the bill he voted to support. 

Rep. Patt Maney, R-Shalimar, also conceded, “I’m up on this bill. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have concerns about the bill.” 

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