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Tourist tax proposal revamped in Senate

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A Senate panel Monday approved a controversial proposal that would allow tourist-development taxes to be used for such things as transportation and sewer projects --- but made changes that significantly narrowed it.

Groups such as the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association have fought the proposal (SB 658), arguing it could lead to diverting tourist-development taxes from being used for advertising and marketing.

Supporters, however, contend that infrastructure such as roads can help boost tourism.

The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday unanimously approved the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, after making changes.

Under the changes, money could only be used for infrastructure projects in counties where at least $20 million in tourist-development tax money was received in the previous year.

Such uses also would require two-thirds votes by county commissions, and tourist-development taxes could cover no more than 70 percent of the costs of the infrastructure projects.

Additionally, an independent analysis would have to show that an infrastructure project would have a positive impact on tourist-related businesses.