TALLAHASSEE - Governor Rick Scott has not yet taken action on the new budget and the fate of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency, remains in limbo.
For every dollar Visit Florida spends, the state receives $3.20 in return, according to the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research. In 2015, the latest available year, that translated to $109 billion in tourist spending; $11.3 billion in tax revenue, and 1.4 million tourism-related jobs in 2015.
“The way the Legislature did [the budget], a lot of us say they did it in secret,” said Scott in Jacksonville this week. “They cut it 67 percent, back to $25 million and even with that, the way the bills came through, it’s very difficult to even spend that money.”
Scott had asked for an increase, to $100 million.
“Gotta make sure our Legislature puts the money in, so we get more tourists,” said Scott in Pensacola earlier this month. “Every 67 tourists is another job.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran led the charge against funding Visit Florida, after the agency entered into a secret, $1 million contract with Miami rapper Pitbull, using taxpayer funds, to produce a new video for his song "Sexy Beaches" touting the state's beaches and lodging.
Before the just-completed legislative session, Corcoran said funding Visit Florida did not go hand-in-glove with increased tourism numbers.
“Let’s look at when we increased money for Visit Florida and tourism went down,” said the Speaker. “Let’s look at years when we decreased money for Visit Florida and tourism went up. There’s no correlation between what we’re spending and what we’re getting in return.”
Washington County Tourism Development Commission Vice Chairman Ted Everett disagrees, stating the numbers speak for themselves.
"This budget cut is going to affect us in the big picture because there's simply not going to be a lot of money for Visit Florida to participate with rural counties like ours," said Everett. "There won't be the local co-op programs like we have now where they match us on promotional tools such as having brochures printed. If we spent $5,000 on brochures, they would match us $5,000. If the co-op programs go away, so would that help."
Everett added that the numbers speak for themselves.
"For every 1 percent drop in tourism statewide, it will end up costing about 28,000 jobs in the tourism sector," he said.
In 2015, tourism generated revenue in Washington County alone topped $11 million and created more than 200 jobs.
In voicing his opposition to funding Visit Florida, House Speaker Richard Corcoran also points to the agency’s budget increases over the past five to six years, peaking at $80 million. He seeks to tie that in with tax reform.
“That’s an increase of 200-something percent, of money that could go to classrooms; could go to helping seniors, could go to tax cuts,” said Corcoran. “All the things that we know work.”
Meanwhile, a new arrow in the Governor’s quiver to defend Visit Florida comes from Visit Florida itself. Their figures show the state drawing just over 31 million visitors during the first three months of the year. According to the Governor’s office, that’s the highest number during any quarter in state history
Dave Dunwoody of WUWF contributed to this report.