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House Speaker Takes Aim At Visit Florida Funding

Steve Cannon
Associated Press
House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes

House Speaker Jose Oliva continues to lead the charge against funding for Visit Florida, saying in a newspaper column this week that tourists would still be drawn to Florida without taxpayer-paid promotional efforts.

“The Spanish built St. Augustine and they came. Henry Flagler built a railroad to nowhere and they came. And a man from Missouri named Walt built in the middle of Florida and they came by the millions,” Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, wrote.

“Florida is the ‘it’ that people want to come see. And there are plenty of private and government marketing efforts underway every day.”

Oliva’s column pushes back on newspaper editorials and people supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal to maintain $50 million in funding for Visit Florida next fiscal year and against bills (SB 362 and HB 213) that would keep the tourism-marketing agency operating through Oct. 1, 2028.

“Most people don’t know that nearly all of the 67 counties collect the ‘local option tourist tax’ and county agencies like Tourism Development Councils (TDCs) spend that money on tourism and marketing and other activities to draw visitors,” Oliva wrote. “In 2019, Florida’s counties collected over $1 billion in revenue. You read that right, that’s 1 billion with a B.” House leaders in recent years have targeted funding for Visit Florida.

Oliva has dismissed concerns that tourism would be hurt without Visit Florida’s promotional efforts, saying tourism growth in the state has stemmed from factors such as people having more disposable income.

Lawmakers this fiscal year cut Visit Florida’s funding from $76 million to $50 million. Visit Florida fired 44 of its 135 workers to carry out the funding cut. Proponents of the agency have argued that 1 percent growth in tourism in the third quarter of this year, after the funding reduction went into effect, is a sign that tourism is slowing and that more marketing is needed.