Florida House Turns on Visit Florida

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Visit Florida is a well-funded powerhouse of tourism for the state of Florida, and given how much of a destination spot Florida has consistently been for years, no one would expect anything to threaten financial stability of an agency capitalizing so efficiently on such a secure industry. Nevertheless, the Florida House of Representatives turned their growing concerns into actions last week as though spurred by a story in the news linking Visit Florida and Miami-based rapper, Pitbull. They’re advancing a measure that cuts Visit Florida’s funding by twothirds while enforcing unprecedented transparency.

Rep. Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) explains why he and other lawmakers take issue with the way Visit Florida operates, especially in light of recent events in which a lack of transparency on the part of Visit Florida compelled the Speaker of the Florida House Richard Corcoran to sue Pitbull:

“We want to get at a contract—and the Pitbull contract has been the one in the news, so I’ll use that as an example—that the initial response was, ‘We’re not gonna share that information with you because it’s subject to a public records exemption.’ This bill eliminates that public records exemption.”

Several deals with Visit Florida drew the scrutiny of lawmakers to look into how taxpayer money was being spent, and it seemed to make representatives feel that Visit Florida was being rather cavalier with taxpayer dollars. For example, Fulham Football Club disclosed a deal with Visit Florida wherein $1.25 million were spent to imbue their kits with the words “Visit Florida.” The International Motor Sports Association also revealed a $2.9 million deal to put the same words on racecars.

It all blew up, however, when lawmakers attempted to get a similar disclosure on a contract between Visit Florida and none other than Mr. 305 himself, Pitbull. The agency refused to disclose the information, according to Rep. Renner, which they were legally authorized to refuse on the basis of a public records exemption. Rep. Corcoran sued Pitbull’s production agency for disclosure of the contract, however, which prompted Pitbull to release a copy of the contract on Twitter.

This $1.1 million deal pushed state congressmen to draft a bill that aims to significantly defund Visit Florida. The chairman of Visit Florida reassures that the agency is taking steps to reform its business practices due to all the scrutiny over its lack of transparency, and an important part of this reform is the new commitment not to enter into any confidentiality agreements like the one signed with Pitbull. Additionally, Visit Florida has a new CEO, Ken Lawson, who previously headed the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Under the new law that has yet to be passed, Visit Florida will require state congressional oversight to approve any business deal that represents a value of more than $750,000, one of the many ways transparency will be enforced. This serves as an example of the war House Speaker Corcoran has waged on corporate welfare, which casts a somewhat dim light on Governor Rick Scott. State spending is, first and foremost, Gov. Scott’s purview, and it was technically on his watch that it grew a bit out of control through Visit Florida. Corcoran’s warpath, going so far as to sue Pitbull’s production company, has even contributed to putting Gov. Scott at odds with Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP)—an advocacy group that facilitates citizenship training for illegal immigrants and targets state spending for tourism marketing and job incentives.

Phillips disagrees with what Gov. Scott’s policy thus far indicates about his ideas on what the purpose of the state is. He says, “A core function of a state is education, transportation, roads, infrastructure—a core function.” He also says that AFP is already setting its eyes on the midterms. “I think Florida governor will be a priority for us. We will absolutely look at the [U.S.] Senate race.” Upon being elected Vice Chair of the Republican Governors Association, Gov. Scott is widely expected to make a play for the U.S. Senate come midterms, and House Speaker Corcoran’s hard stance against so-called “corporate welfare” might be pulling obstacles into Gov. Scott’s ambitious path.