For the foreseeable future, there will be a truce in the Legislature about whether tourism marketing is the state’s business.
On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation reauthorizing VISIT FLORIDA until 2023.
The reauthorization comes at a critical time for Florida’s tourism industry, with restaurants, hotels, and cruise ships more than decimated by restrictions on movement and commerce driven by coronavirus response.
Critics said VF was unnecessary, as the state marketed itself. But for these sectors, and related ones, the agency is now essential triage at a pivotal time.
The issue that animated fights between the House and Senate under the last two pairs of leaders will not recur when Sen. Wilton Simpson and Rep. Chris Sprowls lead their respective chambers.
The House said funding tourism marketing was a non-starter, but the Senate pushed for reauthorization this Session.
In the end, VISIT FLORIDA got three more years out of the House. And the Senate moved from the position of wanting eight years.
House leaders wanted to let it expire last year, but Gov Ron DeSantis’ support for the agency bought it an extension through June.
DeSantis proposed spending $76 million on VISIT FLORIDA during the current year but accepted a Senate compromise of $50 million.
After the back-and-forth this Session with the House and Speaker José Oliva finally backing down on efforts to strip the agency, it will get its expected full funding.
“$50 million, one year,” said the laconic Rep. Travis Cummings, the House Appropriations Chairman, in a budget conference shortly after the Senate position prevailed in negotiations.
Future allocations beyond FY 20-21 will be figured out in upcoming Sessions.
“VISIT FLORIDA deserves credit for marketing at least inside the Legislature,” Oliva said during Session. “Now what they do outside will remain in doubt in my view forever.”
“They’ve certainly convinced the Legislature of their importance,” Oliva added. “Add to that coronavirus and the issues the cruise ship companies are having and possibly the theme parks and there is no doubt that an already difficult argument about an agency that has no power over any of that will once again convince us but for them tourists would be leaving.”
2019’s budget cut from $76 million to $50 million came after intense negotiations. But the legislative will to cut further was not there in 2020.
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Associated Industries of Florida, American Advertising Federation Florida TaxWatch, Florida Association of Counties and Florida Chamber all backed reauthorization.