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Mike La Rosa, Neil Combee and John Cortes defend attacks on VISIT FLORIDA

Kissimmee may be part of the heart of Florida’s tourism district, but three local lawmakers told the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce Tuesday why they did not openly support VISIT FLORIDA during the political wars of this year’s Legislative Session.

Republican state Reps. Mike La Rosa and Neil Combee and Democratic state Rep. John Cortes described surviving a 2017 Legislative Session and Special Session that Combee declared had “a lot of Republican-on-Republican violence” and Cortes said was no fun for Democrats. But La Rosa pointed out that in the end, after the Special Session, Floridians got what they needed.

In the end the Florida Legislature gave VISIT FLORIDA what it and Gov. Rick Scott wanted, $76 million, but both Republicans and the Democrat representing parts of Osceola County in the Florida House said that was not before they and the House leadership extracted accountability and transparency assurances and reforms.

This, before the group that represents Walt Disney World and countless tourism and lodging business interests that dominate Kissimmee’s economy, and which lobbied them hard to support VISIT FLORIDA. But the hometown lawmakers bucked the call for months, and offered no apologizes Tuesday.

Combee recounted the account of VISIT FLORIDA paying Pat Roberts $2.8 million to produce a cable-TV fishing show “that nobody watches,” a story broken this spring by the Naples Daily News.

“When people look at that they say, ‘Is this the best way for us to be spending our money?’ I think there’s a lot of folks who think we deserve more accountability out of VISIT FLORIDA, out of Enterprise Florida. So I don’t apologize for the speaker,” Combee added, referring to House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s crusade to take down VISIT FLORIDA.

That crusade ended with full funding during the Special Session, but the message had been sent, Combee said.

“VISIT FLORIDA. I have to say, this is not an attack on Florida tourism,” La Rosa said. “It’s important to our economy. It will continue to be important. What happened this past year was an attack on the way taxpayers’ dollars were being spent, how transparent or less transparent it ultimately was.”

Cortes was less pleased with the final outcomes, from VISIT FLORIDA to the education bill, House Bill 7069, from the expanded Homestead Exemption and home rule changes hitting local governments to the $85 million provided Gov. Rick Scott for an economic incentive fund.

“VISIT FLORIDA, Enterprise Florida, the governor’s slush fund, that totals $177 million of your tax dollars. VISIT FLORIDA, I got crucified for this one because I’m against it, and I was against Enterprise Florida. But I come back to VISIT FLORIDA because a lot of folks came to see me because they said it would help businesses out. If this is going to help businesses out, I’d like to see more transparency, which they put in,” Cortes said.

Cortes was to have been joined by fellow Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres, but he had to cancel Monday.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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