Florida Sets Another Tourism Record As Scott Fights To Keep Programs

As the battle over the future of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida continues, the Governor gives some good news for the state that supports his stance on keeping the programs. 

Rick Scott announced Thursday morning that Florida set another record in tourism by welcoming the highest amount of visitors in the state’s history with 112.8 million visitors in 2016. This is the sixth consecutive record year for visitation to Florida, exceeding the previous high by 5.9%. Tourism jobs also hit a record high in 2016 of 1.4 million jobs, exceeding the previous record in 2015.

“I have seen firsthand how tourism impacts our state," Scott said at an event in Melbourne to highlight the numbers. "Since I have been in office, we have made important investments in Visit Florida and broken record after record of visitors, added more than a million new residents and seen Florida’s private sector create more than 1.25 million new jobs."

The state calculates that those traveling to Florida spent $109 billion during their trips here last year. Scott believes those figures more than justify the $74 million he wants allocated in the upcoming state budget for the state's tourism marketing agency. However, many Republicans, including House Speaker Joseph Corcoran want to cut that and the state's top economic development program, Enterprise Florida.

"I don’t understand how anyone can look at Florida’s booming tourism industry, and the more than 1.4 million jobs it supports, and vote to kill it," Scott said. "We cannot let that happen. We have to fight to continue investing in our tourism industry so we can keep breaking records and adding even more jobs.“

The Governor has spent the past several days traveling around the state, including stops in Sunrise and Riviera Beach on Wednesday, to tout the employment growth and other benefits that have come with Enterprise Florida incentives for businesses.

The House Careers and Competition Subcommittee voted 10-5 to eliminate both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida as part of a bill that would clear out many economic incentives aimed at recruiting businesses to the state. Enterprise Florida was given $18 million in funds last year, but critics of those programs label them "corporate welfare" and claim they are inherently unfair.

A group of Republicans in the state, including Speaker Corcoran released a video of their own showing some of the failures of companies who used taxpayer-funded perks to set up shop in the state only to see the promise of growth and local benefit vanish. There are also many lawmakers knocking the $1 million paid to the entertainer Pitbull as part of a Visit Florida marketing campaign.

Any measure to officially kill off either agency would have to clear other committees before a vote before the full House and Senate in Tallahassee, which is unlikely to muster enough support to overcome a veto from the governor.

(Photo credit: Angel Valentin)

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