TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's tourism-marketing efforts, which have become part of a prolonged personal battle between the governor and House speaker, are heading --- as expected --- into legislative budget talks.
The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday proposed matching Gov. Rick Scott's budget request for $76 million for tourism-marketer Visit Florida, while also setting aside more than $80 million for programs tied to Enterprise Florida, an economic-development agency the House has voted to abolish.
Meanwhile, the House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee countered by proposing $25 million for Visit Florida and $10 million for Space Florida, $3 million more than Senate has offered.
House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Chairman Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, said the budget proposal is “basically following the tenets” of the House bill that included abolishing Enterprise Florida.
“Being a policy bill, I know there are negotiations going on between the House and Senate on the policy of that bill,” Ingram said.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Tuesday he doesn't support the House approach on the agencies but that his focus is "getting what we have over here done first."
"The House does its thing, the Senate does its thing, then we see where it goes," Latvala said.
The proposals are an initial step as lawmakers prepare to negotiate a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The House and Senate will each pass spending plans, setting the stage for detailed negotiations of a final budget.
Scott, who on Tuesday was scheduled to hold individual meetings with 14 senators, has credited increased funding for Visit Florida since he took office with growth in tourism in Florida.
Visit Florida reported more than 112.8 million visitors in 2016, up from 87.3 million in 2011, when Visit Florida received $35 million from the state.
House leaders have attributed the growth to an improvement in the economy and people having more disposable income.
Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, have publicly feuded for weeks about the futures of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.
Scott has asked lawmakers to approve $85 million for business-recruitment incentives through Enterprise Florida, arguing that the agency is important to recruiting and maintaining businesses in the state. Corcoran has repeatedly described such incentives as "corporate welfare."
The House initially sought to eliminate Visit Florida, along with Enterprise Florida and a number of other programs. Corcoran questioned million-dollar deals by the tourism agency with Miami hip-hop artist Armando Christian Perez, better known as Pitbull, London-based Fulham Football Club and an IMSA racing team.
But the House backed away from eliminating Visit Florida and passed a bill (HB 9) that would overhaul the structure and contract-reporting requirements of the tourism marketer.
A year ago, lawmakers approved $78 million for Visit Florida but rejected Scott's requested $250 million for economic incentives.
As part of the proposal that the Senate subcommittee will review on Wednesday, Enterprise Florida would receive $39.4 million for “economic development tools,” which includes $25 million for new contracts, and $34 million through the Quick Action Closing Fund incentive program, of which $20 million is for new contracts.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said he would prefer to work on changes (SB 1110 and SB 1112) that he's proposed to Enterprise Florida. The changes would focus on oversight, maintaining funding for the agency and setting up new programs to help small businesses. But those measures have stalled in the committee process.
"I agree with a lot that the House is doing, in their direction they're moving, not wholly but substantially," Brandes said.