Budget conference: VISIT FLORIDA spared, gets funding boost to $80M

visit florida
'So far 137 million people last year decided to take a trip to Florida. … It’s our number one economic driver in this state.'

Florida’s tourism marketing group is not just getting saved, it’s getting a $30 million funding boost.

House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Friday to give VISIT FLORIDA $80 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1. House leaders originally zeroed out its funding but eventually came to the Senate preference.

But the public-private group, which has been targeted for elimination by the House before in 2017, will be moved under the Department of Economic Opportunity, which will be renamed as the Department of Commerce in HB 5.

“There’s been opinions between the House and Senate for several years about the value of VISIT FLORIDA. I certainly understand the House’s concern that it’s a lot of money,” said Sen. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican and Chair of the Senate Tourism, Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee.

“But so far 137 million people last year decided to take a trip to Florida. … It’s our No. 1 economic driver in this state.”

Destinations Florida, a hub of Florida’s marketing organizations, released a statement praising the move.

“Funding for VISIT FLORIDA initiatives helps attract visitors to Florida and plays a critical role in generating local and state revenue that keeps the tax base low for residents, including more than $1,500 in tax savings every year, for every Florida family,” the statement read.

“By funding VISIT FLORIDA at an unprecedented level, our state lawmakers are recognizing that tourism is the lifeblood of Florida’s economy — generating nearly 30% of our state’s tax revenues and employing more than 1.7 million Floridians.”

Hooper and his House counterpart, Rep. Alex Andrade, a Pensacola Republican, said they closed out the entire transportation and economic development portion of the budget. The only unresolved issues are regarding budget language on how to spend $350 million for hurricane relief.

The sides agreed to spend $35 million for the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, the home of Flagler College.

One issue still left unresolved, though, is how much to spend on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $7 billion proposal to speed up road projects across the state. That issue was moved to a different area of the budget and will get resolved at the full budget conference level.

Lawmakers must reach an agreement on a final spending plan by Tuesday to meet the 72-hour “cooling off” period required by the state constitution before they can vote on the budget to avoid pushing the Regular Session past its scheduled May 5 end date.

Gray Rohrer

One comment

  • Michael K

    April 28, 2023 at 4:17 pm

    I remember when Florida used to be a leader in welcoming LGBTQ travelers. I guess those days are gone – word is out across the world that we are not so friendly these days – but we now have guns for anyone, anyplace, everywhere! Nothing says welcome like packing heat.

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