House and Senate hold firm on structure of VISIT FLORIDA funding

visit florida
VISIT FLORIDA still won't sunset until Oct. 1, 2023.

In a year when VISIT FLORIDA funding questions looked predetermined, a question over funding strategies is taking the debate to the next stage.

Despite the House’s proposal to fund VISIT FLORIDA on a year-by-year basis, the Senate on Sunday held firm on plans to keep it funded annually. In response to the Senate’s plan, the House on Monday reiterated its position, continuing the standoff.

House infrastructure and tourism negotiators proposed shifting $50 million in annual funding for VISIT FLORIDA to a nonrecurring basis. That change would help free recurring revenue as the House has been trying to shift some funds to nonrecurring.

“We felt that it was best to move that into the nonrecurring right now just because, I think the Chairman said over the course of the last few months, there’s some issues with the reoccurring dollars,” said Rep. Jayer Williamson, who’s leading the House negotiations on infrastructure and tourism.

In recent years, the House was reluctant to extend the state’s tourism marketing arm. That debate is settled, at least for the near future, when lawmakers agreed to fund the agency through September 2023.

They slotted $50 million for the agency on a recurring basis.

However, the House’s proposal slightly alters the plan, preserving the $50 million but shifting it into the pool of nonrecurring dollars. In effect, VISIT FLORIDA would have to justify its funding every year.

It wouldn’t be a death sentence. Several state entities are funded year in and year out with nonrecurring dollars.

Early in the Session, House Speaker Chris Sprowls backed the need for VISIT FLORIDA. That was a deviation from his predecessors, José Oliva and Richard Corcoran, an improvement for the agency.

“I think that they play a very valuable role in making sure that the rest of the nation, the rest of the world, potential visitors know that when they’re able to get here that we want them here, we want them to visit, we want them to eat in our restaurants and stay in our hotels,” Sprowls said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has consistently supported the agency and reiterated its importance in a crisis like a pandemic.

Legislation to remove the sunset date for VISIT FLORIDA is stalled at its final Senate panel (SB 788). Meanwhile, it’s House counterpart (HB 675) never got rolling, Williamson noted.

The bill would also allow the agency to roll over unspent funds from one year to the next, as long as lawmakers agree to continue funding the agency. That would help save would-be waste, according to Senate bill sponsor Sen. Ed Hooper.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.



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