House Agrees to Visit Florida Money

TALLAHASSEE — With lawmakers on the verge of shutting the doors of the Enterprise Florida business-recruitment agency, the House on Friday went along with a Senate proposal to boost funding for Visit Florida’s tourism-marketing efforts.

Budget negotiators agreed to provide $80 million for Visit Florida during the upcoming 2023-2024 fiscal year, an increase of $30 million from the current year. The Senate had sought $80 million, while the House did not initially propose money for Visit Florida.

“There’s been opinions between the House and Senate for several years about the value of Visit Florida, and I certainly understand the House’s concern. It’s a lot of money,” Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Chairman Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, said. “So far, 137 million people last year decided to take a trip to Florida, not counting those of us that traveled intrastate. The Senate thinks it’s a good investment of taxpayer dollars and trust-fund money.”

The agreement also likely spells the end of Enterprise Florida, which was a hallmark of economic efforts under former Gov. Rick Scott and is part of a current international trip by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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“The (economic development) mission is going to be there,” Hooper said. “It will be without that (Enterprise Florida) umbrella. But those funds will be folded into, now, the Department of Commerce.”

The deal came as the House on Friday unanimously passed a bill (HB 5) that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and shift some incentive programs into the Department of Economic Opportunity, which would be renamed the Department of Commerce.

House Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Chairman Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, said Visit Florida will also be moved under the department, as a direct-service organization rather than a more independent public-private agency, “with $80 million.”

The Florida Sports Foundation would also become a direct service organization under the department.

The House bill, which also would repeal the Office of Film and Entertainment, would move 20 Enterprise Florida positions into the Department of Commerce.

The agreement between House and Senate negotiators puts to rest a proposed change in the way Visit Florida is funded. The House pushed to draw money from the 62 county tourist-development councils to cover the state’s tourism marketing.

Local tourism officials warned the proposed change would harm efforts that last year helped lead to tourism numbers topping pre-pandemic levels.

The House for years has been critical of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, questioning the effectiveness of some business-recruitment efforts and the need for the state to be involved in tourism marketing. The House has pointed to marketing efforts by numerous local tourism agencies, theme parks, cruise operations and other tourism draws.

Shortly before the Visit Florida deal was announced Friday, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said the tourism funding would be “fine.”

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“The tourism industry is our number-one driver of our economy,” Passidomo said. “I also represent a small county, Hendry County, that doesn’t have the ability like Miami-Dade or Orlando or other big metropolitan areas to raise money for their own tourism. So, this Visit Florida helps the entire state. I feel pretty good about it. I’ve told the speaker (House Speaker Paul Renner) that many times, and he laughs.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said late Friday afternoon that unresolved budget issues had been bumped from conference committees to him and House Appropriations Chairman Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach. The legislative session is scheduled to end May 5.

“We’re really close,” Passidomo said earlier Friday. “I’m really proud of the committees. They want to leave as little as possible for the approps chairs.”

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