Visit Florida funding likely to be another hot issue in 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Visit Florida, the state’s public-private tourism marketing arm, is about to be at the center of one of the biggest fights in the 2020 legislative session.

Lawmakers have had the agency in their sights for at least three years after some questionable spending, but there’s a new wrinkle this year.

Visit Florida spent millions spent on a cooking show and a fishing show and then another $1 million on a video featuring Pitbull.

The agency originally angered lawmakers by refusing to tell them how much was spent on the promotions.

A showdown between the House and the Senate this spring threatened to close the agency forever. 

Then, the governor personally asked for a one-year reprieve. The House speaker gave in.

“So that he would have the opportunity to make an assessment of his own of how unnecessary it is,” House Speaker Jose Oliva said in April.

Now looking forward to the 2020 session, Gov. Ron DeSantis will be asking to keep the agency alive.

“It’s interesting, and the speaker and I are very philosophically aligned,” DeSantis said. "I mean, I was not necessarily sold on it coming in, but as they rate these things, that’s one of the few economic development things that gets rated as being positive."

State Sen. Tom Lee believes the Senate will continue to fight for the tourism-promoting agency.

“I think it’s pretty important to the Senate,” Lee said.

As a compromise to keep Visit Florida alive for one more year, lawmakers agreed to kill the agency June 13. This week, two bills were filed to extend Visit Florida’s life until October 2028.

“But I suspect that’s all gonna get caught up in the horse-trading that takes place late in the session,” Lee said.

But that means the House has to actually pass something it only grudgingly agreed to in the 2019 session.

In budget hearings last week, state lawmakers were asked to set aside $50 million for VisitFlorida. It’s the same amount the agency got this year, but the governor said Monday that the number was still in flux.