Visit Florida appears to be getting more than a one-year extension. Days after budget negotiators agreed to maintain $50 million in funding for the state tourism-marketing agency next fiscal year, the House on Tuesday amended a Senate proposal (SB 362) and would authorize the agency until Oct. 1, 2023.
The House is expected to vote on the extension, which would send the bill back to the Senate, which has sought to extend Visit Florida until Oct. 1, 2028. Rep. Mel Ponder, a Destin Republican who sponsored the House version of the bill, said the extension to 2023 was worked out with the Senate.
Without reauthorization during this year’s legislative session, Visit Florida will be eliminated July 1. The extension to 2023 represents a change for the House, where Republican leaders have sought to close the agency. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, said the extension would provide “stability” to the agency. Last year, Visit Florida had to cut staff by 30 percent following a $26 million reduction in state funding.
“When you don’t know, and it’s indefinite, it’s up in the air with regard to how long you have to operate, it’s very difficult to put in place a marketing plan,” Thompson said.
The agency has been a target of House leaders for years, drawing fire for past spending that included $1 million for rapper Pitbull to market the state, $11.6 million to sponsor a cooking show hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, and sponsorship deals with London-based Fulham Football Club and an IMSA racing team.
Backers of the agency have pointed to its ability to market the state amid negative media coverage of issues such as hurricanes, red tide, algae and diseases such as Zika. With the state now facing the novel coronavirus, Visit Florida announced last week that $377,000 intended for China marketing was being shifted to a new campaign aimed at areas of the United States where a trip to the Sunshine State might not require air travel.