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Florida Legislature should let tourist tax funds do their job | Opinion

Friday, April 02, 2021

Florida’s Tourist Development Taxes provide the seed money necessary to stimulate the local tourism economy and bring visitors to a community. The tax was approved by voters to fund tourism promotion — and tourism promotion only.

It is not meant to be a pot of money that can be used for anything and everything. Sweeping money away from tourism promotion reduces the positive economic support visitors provide.

Bills currently moving through the Florida Legislature, HB 1429/SB 2008, would sweep Tourist Development Taxes and allow local governments to divert those funds away from their intended purpose – local tourism promotion.

If the Legislature chooses to expand the permissible uses of Tourist Development Taxes, it could hurt Visit Tallahassee’s ability to promote to potential visitors the historic, nature-based and cultural offerings we have here in the capital city. It could hurt its ability to promote events, such as the upcoming Word of South festival or our Market Days event, that bring visitors to our community.

Visitors means business

Those visitors will dine in our local restaurants, shop in our boutiques and maybe even stop in to enjoy the wonders at the Tallahassee Museum while they are here. Those visitors also generate local tax revenue that helps fund education, public safety and infrastructure.

The Florida tourism industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. The last thing the industry needs is to have to fight this annual legislative battle to ensure funds specifically earmarked for tourism promotion remain dedicated to tourism promotion.

Every year, there is a new legislative proposal to expand the uses of Tourist Development Taxes, whether for flood mitigation, water quality projects, public safety, affordable housing and other services or projects. If this legislation is passed, there will be another request next year, further eroding local communities’ abilities to attract visitors needed to generate tax revenue and jobs.

There are signs that Florida’s tourism industry is starting to bounce back, but it will take time and aggressive state and local tourism promotion efforts to get us back to years with record-setting numbers of visitors. What’s needed most right now is support for state and local tourism promotion organizations, and preservation of funding for tourism promotion. What’s not needed is legislation that would hurt the very industry that is poised to lead our state’s economic recovery.

I urge the members of the House and Senate to vote down HB 1429 and SB 2008, and put an end to the yearly attempt to siphon funds away from tourism promotion.

Russell Daws is the president and CEO of the Tallahassee Museum.

Read in the Tallahassee Democrat. 

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