Americans for Prosperity-Florida wants lawmakers to reject a bill moving through the Legislature to extend the life of the state’s tourism marketing arm.
VISIT FLORIDA, funded at $50 million in the current year budget, will sunset on Oct. 1, 2023, under current law. HB 489, sponsored by St. Pete Beach Republican Rep. Linda Chaney, would extend its authorization by five years to Oct. 1, 2028.
On Tuesday, the House Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee advanced the bill. The Senate companion (SB 434) cleared its first stop two months ago and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee, after which it would be ready for a floor vote.
The Legislature has been keeping VISIT FLORIDA on a rolling, two-year lifespan, grudgingly moving the sunset clause forward every year, for several years, since scandals in the mid-2010s gave the agency a reputation for out-of-control slush-fund spending and lack of accountability.
The agency was particularly disliked by former House Speakers Jose Oliva and Richard Corcoran. AFP-FL has also been a consistent critic, deriding the agency as a form of “corporate welfare.” Its view has not changed.
“AFP-FL works hard to protect Floridians’ hard-earned dollars by opposing public funding for unwarranted purposes,” AFP-FL State Director Skylar Zander said in a news release. “We should not allow our legislators to pick and choose what they want to see succeed in our economy — it should be our choice. After all, we know that the best way to actually promote economic growth is by ensuring that everyone is competing fairly.”
Zander said blocking the VISIT FLORIDA extension is one of AFP-FL’s top priorities for the 2022 Legislative Session and asserted the state already has an effective tourism marketer on its payroll: Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“Over the past few years, the best marketing for Florida has been Gov. Ron DeSantis empowering individuals and businesses to innovate throughout the pandemic instead of mandating top-down approaches, maintaining the option of in-person schooling, and working to keep Florida as one of the freest states in the nation,” Zander continued.
“Florida doesn’t need a tourism and marketing program — our Governor is marketing our state more effectively than any 30-second advertisement could. Let’s stop wasting Florida’s taxpayer dollars on these types of programs.”
The Governor, however, has signaled support for VISIT FLORIDA. In November, his office lauded the agency, saying its pandemic-era marketing campaigns have “yielded consistent growth for Florida tourism and the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Likewise, Florida’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research calculated that for every $1 invested in VISIT FLORIDA, $3.27 is returned to taxpayers.
HB 489 is awaiting a hearing in the House Commerce Committee, its final stop before it’s ready for a floor vote.
Florida Politics reporter Scott Powers contributed to this post.