The illustrious Florida legislative session is starting to wind down, and is supposedly going to end on May 5.
And believe it or not, lawmakers have not been able to resolve differences with Governor Rick Scott over how much money the state ought to invest in the reason you get to skip the state income tax section in TurboTax if you live in Florida: tourism.
The State House of Representatives wants to fund Visit Florida, the state government-backed tourism marketing agency, to the tune of $25 million, or less than a third of its current funding level, which Scott said was "shocking" during a press conference in Tallahassee that was streamed on the Florida Channel.
The State Senate has requested a tad more than that, $76 million, which is still a couple million less than its current funding level and a lot less than what Scott wants.
Scott said Tuesday he's gunning for $100 million because, hey, look at the record-shattering tourism numbers that are coming out quarter after quarter. According to News Service of Florida, Visit Florida reported more than 112.8 million visitors in 2016, up from 87.3 million in 2011, a year Visit Florida received $35 million from the state. But House members make the ol' causation vs. correlation argument, and say the spike in tourism has more to do with the economic recovery that happened over the same period of time.
Scott cited estimates of some 1.4 million tourism-related jobs in the state and said for every dollar the state invests in advertising Florida's many attractions in other states and countries, it brings back more than three.
Florida's governor is famously averse to government spending, so for him to say the state's budget is in good enough shape that it can invest that kind of money is... special.
But members of the Florida House, which in this case are managing to come off as even more Rick Scott-esque than actual Rick Scott, seem to think generously funding tourism marketing is government waste at its finest. They probably think this in part because of that whole Pitbull fiasco — you know, when that one rapper guy was paid a million dollars to use a hashtag, terms no one knew about until well after the fact. The disclosure of that contract in December set off a political fight between Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
The House also wants to defund Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development arm, which Scott wants to keep funding at high levels despite former officials within the department having apparently taken some liberties in how they defined essential expenses.
With the governor's high number and House lawmakers' low number in play as the state hammers out the details of the next fiscal year's budget — something the House Senate and governor all have to sign off on or else — that means another showdown is shaping up in Tallahassee ('member last time the House threw a fit over the state budget? We 'member). Scott told reporters Tuesday he is taking his message about funding Visit Florida directly to the constituents of lawmakers who are refusing to budge on it.
“As I've traveled the state and talked about this, people are just shocked that the House would even think of reducing marketing in this state for tourism,” he said Tuesday.
Tourism industry leaders appreciate the full-court press.
From a written statement attributed to U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow:
"The investment proposal of $100 million announced today by Governor Scott demonstrates the value he places on tourism promotion to his state's economy, and represents exactly the kind of bold vision required to expand jobs for hard-working Floridians and further grow the state's tax base...While some misguided Florida policymakers continue to question the state's budgetary commitment to tourism promotion in a penny-wise but pound-foolish ideological experiment, Gov. Scott has the right idea, looking ahead with a clear-eyed policy vision."