With just under three weeks remaining before the legislature officially adjourns, there are still numerous measures whose fate remains undecided. One proposal that is still in the works in the House and Senate is Florida’s next state budget
The proposed budget, which remains stalled in both chambers, could have huge implications for Florida’s tourism and pro-business economy. One of the controversial decisions in the next budget involves the potential closure of Visit Florida, which serves as the the state’s official marketing arm. The corporation is responsible for aiding visitors with traveling plans to the Sunshine State.
Proponents argue that the group is vital to Florida’s tourism industry, which is responsible for 1.5 million jobs in the state of Florida, with tourism contributing to more than $3 billion to the state general revenue fund. Opponents, however, argue that the tax dollars that fund the corporation could go to programs that need more funding.
While several politicos, including the members of the governor’s cabinet, hope to continue to fund Visit Florida, one obstacle remains in their way — House Speaker Jose Oliva. The Republican leader in the House has been an outspoken opponent of the extension bill (SB 213), and says there is no correlation between funding Visit Florida and the number of tourists visiting the state.
According to Visit Florida, the state set a new record with 126.1 million visitors in 2018, despite operating at a fraction of the previous year’s budget. Numbers for 2019 won’t be available until May or June, but estimates suggest that it’ll be another record-breaking year for visitors in the state.
The Florida Chamber, a business advocacy group responsible for protecting Florida’s Constitution from special interest groups, held its weekly web-based program to discuss the controversial issue. On the latest edition of the Florida Chamber’s Bottom Line, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity CEO Ken Lawson discussed the importance of keeping VISIT FLORIDA alive, and the economic impact tourism has on the state.
“By virtue of tourism, we’re not paying a state income tax,” said Lawson. “Out-of-state tourists are investing in Florida, spending money across the state, that means that’s increasing our tax base. So, it’s very important that Visit Florida is funded to help market the state across the country and the world.”
The Visit Florida extension bill has yet to be heard in the House. Without an extension, Visit Florida will cease to exist on July 1st.