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Jose Oliva diplomatic on VISIT FLORIDA as Senate OK’s extension

The House and Senate continue to squabble over tourism marketing.

The House doesn’t want to fund it. But the Senate not only wants to fund it, they want it around for eight more years.

The Senate budgeted $52.5 million for VISIT FLORIDA — a position from which the House diverges, offering nothing. That’s the state of play when it comes to VISIT FLORIDA, the state tourism marketing agency.

The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved SB 362, filed by Clearwater Republican Sen. Ed Hooper, which would extend embattled VISIT FLORIDA’s mission until October 2028.

Funding VISIT Florida is a priority for Gov Ron DeSantis. His support for the agency last year bought it an extension through June, despite House leaders wanting to kill it. The agency is still absorbing the impacts of the haircut it had to take.

Oliva seemed to give a slight indication he was open to a compromise on funding the agency. He said the governor and House leadership may have some differing priorities, but they have a great working relationship.

“I think it’s an ongoing process,” he said. “But I think that the Governor will end up doing as he did last year – well overall.”

Speaker José Oliva, who begrudgingly green-lighted VISIT FLORIDA money in 2019, has argued the agency is unnecessary and a waste of money.

“Over the last three years, VISIT FLORIDA spent about 55% to 58% of its total operating budget on media production and operations directly targeting potential tourists,” he said last year. “The remaining dollars are spent on salaries and benefits, fees and services, and things like travel, telephone, and office space.”

DeSantis proposed spending $76 million on VISIT FLORIDA during the upcoming year but accepted a Senate compromise of $50 million.

The House has questioned past promotional contracts, such as with Miami rapper Pitbull and with an auto-racing team known as Visit Florida Racing. An appeals court last week said the House of Representatives can move forward with a subpoena for information related to more than $10 million in contracts for a taxpayer-funded TV show hosted by famed chef Emeril Lagasse. The television show contracts have been part of the controversy during the past few years about VISIT FLORIDA’s spending — and House’s efforts to eliminate it.

But the agency has some powerful industry backing: The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Associated Industries of Florida, American Advertising Federation Florida TaxWatch, Florida Association of Counties and Florida Chamber have all gone on record supporting its reauthorization.

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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