The sun is about to set on Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency. The agency has come under scrutiny by the Florida House in recent years for its spending practices and perceived lack of accountability.
In recent years House leaders have threatened to pull funding for Visit Florida, only to agree to restore the agency’s budget at the last minute.
It appears there will be no late session, change of heart for Visit Florida in the 2019 legislative session.
Visit Florida “is closed out and it will be up to our budget chairs to determine if they want to open that back up,” Florida Politics reported Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, as saying at the final meeting of the Conference Committee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development/Transportation & Tourism.
In the budget making process, conference committees try to work out the differences in the budgets passed by the House and Senate. Items that aren’t resolved in the conference committees get “bumped” up to the appropriation chairs of the two chambers.
Visit Florida was hoping to retain its $76 million budget heading into this year’s session. The Senate agreed to fund the agency at $50 million. But, the House only included $19 million, enough to keep the agency’s doors open until Oct. 1 when its due to be sunset.
The Senate agreed to follow the House’s position on funding Visit Florida.
Any hope of a last minute infusion of cash into the agency’s budget would have to come from Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Fleming Island, the two appropriations chairs. The agencies final hope would be the two legislative leaders, Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker Jose Oliva.
Oliva has been adamant that Florida’s tourism industry would be just fine without the marketing agency, despite the concerns of those who believe the dismantling of Visit Florida will hurt the state’s top industry.
“I would point those people to the world before Visit Florida ever existed. I would point to fluctuations in the funding of Visit Florida and how they in no way correlate to the fluctuations in our tourism,” Oliva said earlier this week. “And I would also point out to them, what we found in the last couple of years is that a great deal of that money was not even being used to promote Florida. So, whatever amount of money was being used to promote Florida, was not having a direct correlation on tourism.”
Visit Florida’s spending practices were first questioned by the House in 2017 when a $11.6 million contract for a cooking show with celebrity chef Emeril Lagassee and a $1 million contract with Miami rapper Pitbull, surfaced in the media. Provisions were added to make the agency more accountable and transparent in its spending practices.