A bill aimed extending the life of the state’s leading tourism marketing agency passed an early hurdle in the state legislature today. The bill would grant a five-year delay for the scheduled repeal of VISIT FLORIDA, but the proposal is drawing fire from American’s for Prosperity – Florida (AFP-FL), a free-market, limited government advocacy group that holds enormous sway among the state’s Republican lawmakers.
AFP-FL ripped HB 489, which the House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee approved this afternoon, because it postpones a previously settled agreement to rid the state of the controversial marketing agency with an average budget over $65 million per year. Lawmakers have long questioned the agency’s existence, arguing that its marketing efforts do little to lure tourists to the Sunshine State, especially since most of the state’s major attractions already promote tourism on their own.
But Skylar Zander, AFP-FL’s State Director, took things a step further, pointing out that Florida’s “open-for-business” approach to the pandemic has done more for tourism than any ad campaign that VISIT FLORIDA could muster.
“Over the past few years, the best marketing for Florida has been Gov. Ron DeSantis empowering individuals and businesses to innovate throughout the pandemic instead of mandating top-down approaches, maintaining the option of in-person schooling, and working to keep Florida as one of the freest states in the nation,” Zander said. “Florida doesn’t need a tourism and marketing program – our Governor is marketing our state more effectively than any 30-second advertisement could. Let’s stop wasting Florida’s taxpayer dollars on these types of programs.”
Current law authorizes the VISIT FLORIDA to operate until Oct. 1, 2023, but the new bill working through the legislature now would push that date back until 2028. By delaying VISIT FLORIDA’s repeal, HB 489 woiuld require lawmakers to continue funding the organization with state tax dollars. In recent years, lawmakers have come close to killing off the organization following a series of embarrassing revelations about the agency’s questionable spending practices.
In 2016, then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran threated to kill VISIT FLORIDA unless it revealed to the public what it paid Miami rapper Pitbull to produce a music video called “Sexy Beaches,” and the slightly off-color play on words had many lawmakers wondering who the ad was targeted towards. The rapper eventually released details of the $1 million contract himself, stunning lawmakers and inviting even more intense scrutiny into whether the agency was getting a good return on the taxpayer’s investment.
Zander said the new legislation, which grants still more taxpayer dollars to the organization, amounts to “corporate welfare.” Blocking so-called corporate welfare and its unfair impacts on Florida residents is one of AFP-FL’s top priorities for the 2022 legislative session, the group said.
“AFP-FL works hard to protect Floridians’ hard-earned dollars by opposing public funding for unwarranted purposes,” said Zander. “We should not allow our legislators to pick and choose what they want to see succeed in our economy – it should be our choice. After all, we know that the best way to actually promote economic growth is by ensuring that everyone is competing fairly.”