The Florida legislature passed an $82 billion budget that
slashed 67% of Visit Florida's budget, setting up a possible veto by Gov. Rick
Scott campaigned aggressively for the state's marketing arm,
requesting $100 million in funds for the organization. Instead, the legislature
gave Visit Florida $25 million.
"The legislature's decision to cut tourism marketing
could lead to a drastic reduction in visitor spending to our local businesses
and revenue to our state," Scott said in a statement responding to the
"I am beginning to review the budget and I have the
option of vetoing the entire budget or vetoing the items that circumvented the
transparent process and do not have an acceptable return on investment for
hardworking taxpayers. Just like I do every year, I will make my decisions
based on what's best for our families because my job is to wake up every day
and fight for Floridians."
Visit Florida became a target of House legislation following
the revelation last year that it had paid rapper Pitbull $1 million to promote
the state, leading to the resignation of Visit Florida's CEO in January.
Florida House speaker Richard Corcoran, a Republican, called for axing the
group, but the final bill that passed the House kept Visit Florida alive, but
with several new transparency rules and the reduced budget.
Scott, also a Republican, tried to persuade Florida
lawmakers to the organization's value and how much tourism contributes to
Florida's coffers. The state set record visitation numbers for the past five
years, and in 2015 it became the first U.S. state to welcome more than 100
million visitors in a single year.
Gil Langley, chairman of the Florida Association of
Destination Marketing Organizations, said in a statement that the slashed
budget "hinders Visit Florida's ability to do its job."
"With only $25
million dedicated to promoting our state, there's no way Florida can stay on
the same playing field as states like California. Not to mention, Visit Florida's
efforts are what keeps tourists from flying over Florida to Mexico, the Bahamas
and now Cuba," Langley said.
Langley added that Florida enjoyed $108.8 billion in
tourism-related spending in the last fiscal year, and warned that even a 5%
tourism downturn would cause the state to lose "more than $324 million in
sales tax revenue and 70,000 jobs."
The budget passed easily, by a vote of 34-4 in the Senate
and 98-14 in the House. Scott can veto the entire budget or specific parts of
it, potentially setting up a showdown with both chambers this summer.