The House Wednesday approved a bill from Republican Rep. Bryan Avila that would allow the state’s tourist tax revenue to help pay for flood mitigation.
The legislation (HB 1429) sailed through 114-2, with only Democratic Rep. Kamia Brown and Republican Rep. Tyler Sirois voting no.
The Avila bill expands the ways local government could use revenue collected through that tax. For instance, local governments could use tourist development dollars for debt service or refinancing certain facilities, but only with voter approval.
The money could also be used for flood mitigation projects or improvements. Those projects aren’t currently listed as a proper use of tourist tax revenue.
“This bill will provide those local governments with the ability to use these funds for vital projects they believe will provide the greatest benefit for their community,” Avila told lawmakers during discussion on the floor earlier this week.
“The bill also requires a referendum for all new taxes or tax increases. The referendum must be approved by a majority of the electors.”
Allowing the revenue to go toward flood mitigation projects has caused some consternation among the tourism and hospitality industry. Representatives of that sector argue tourist tax revenue should continue going toward tourism promotion, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The outbreak dealt a huge blow to locally imposed tourist taxes. Orange County’s tourist tax dropped 97% year-over-year from April 2019 to April 2020. Those struggles continued into the pandemic. As of late last year, revenues were still 60% below normal. Other localities, such as Sumter County, decided to eliminate the tourist tax altogether as a way of encouraging out-of-state residents to visit.
Republican Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. is carrying the companion bill in the Senate. That measure, however, has stalled so far. A scheduled March 30 hearing in the Senate Community Affairs Committee saw the bill temporarily postponed. A hearing has yet to be rescheduled.