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Travel Weekly: Florida budget passes with stripped-down funding for tourism marketing

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

By Johanna Jainchill

The Florida legislature passed an $82 billion budget that slashed 67% of Visit Florida’s budget, setting up a possible veto by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott campaigned aggressively for the state’s marketing arm, requesting $100 million in funds for the organization. Instead, the legislature gave Visit Florida $25 million.

“The legislature’s decision to cut tourism marketing could lead to a drastic reduction in visitor spending to our local businesses and revenue to our state,” Scott said in a statement responding to the budget.

“I am beginning to review the budget and I have the option of vetoing the entire budget or vetoing the items that circumvented the transparent process and do not have an acceptable return on investment for hardworking taxpayers. Just like I do every year, I will make my decisions based on what’s best for our families because my job is to wake up every day and fight for Floridians.”

Visit Florida became a target of House legislation following the revelation last year that it had paid rapper Pitbull $1 million to promote the state, leading to the resignation of Visit Florida’s CEO in January. Florida House speaker Richard Corcoran, a Republican, called for axing the group, but the final bill that passed the House kept Visit Florida alive, but with several new transparency rules and the reduced budget.

Scott, also a Republican, tried to persuade Florida lawmakers to the organization’s value and how much tourism contributes to Florida’s coffers. The state set record visitation numbers for the past five years, and in 2015 it became the first U.S. state to welcome more than 100 million visitors in a single year.

Gil Langley, chairman of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, said in a statement that the slashed budget “hinders Visit Florida’s ability to do its job.”

“With only $25 million dedicated to promoting our state, there’s no way Florida can stay on the same playing field as states like California. Not to mention, Visit Florida’s efforts are what keeps tourists from flying over Florida to Mexico, the Bahamas and now Cuba,” Langley said.

Langley added that Florida enjoyed $108.8 billion in tourism-related spending in the last fiscal year, and warned that even a 5% tourism downturn would cause the state to lose “more than $324 million in sales tax revenue and 70,000 jobs.”

The budget passed easily, by a vote of 34-4 in the Senate and 98-14 in the House. Scott can veto the entire budget or specific parts of it, potentially setting up a showdown with both chambers this summer.

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