State lead­ers dis­agree on Visit Florida

Leg­is­la­tors de­bate fu­ture of tourism mar­ket­ing agen­cies

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - LOCAL - By Dan Sweeney Staff writer

WEST PALM BEACH — State Sen. Jack Lat­vala brought box­ing gloves for House Speaker House Speaker Richard Cor­co­ran as they pre­sented their sides in the on­go­ing bat­tle of busi­ness in­cen­tives and tourism mar­ket­ing.

“I’ve been up there 22 years, and he has flat picked more fights with more peo­ple than any­body be­fore,” Lat­vala said.

The two Repub­li­cans spoke to more than 700 mem­bers of the Fo­rum Club of the Palm Beaches on Mon­day in West Palm Beach.

Cor­co­ran and some other House Repub­li­cans have called for killing En­ter­prise Florida and Visit Florida, the state’s pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships be­hind busi­ness in­cen­tives and tourism mar­ket­ing, re­spec­tively.

Lat­vala, along with many other se­na­tors and Gov. Rick Scott, sup­port fully fund­ing both agen­cies to a com­bined to­tal of more than $160 mil­lion.

Cor­co­ran ar­gues busi­ness in­cen­tives and tourism mar­ket­ing amount to lit­tle more than

“cor­po­rate wel­fare,” while Lat­vala main­tains that they are nec­es­sary com­po­nents of Florida’s econ­omy.

Lat­vala said that killing Visit Florida out­right “would be dis­as­trous.”

The best­way to raise the rev­enue to ad­dress Florida’s many needs is not rais­ing taxes but “or­gan­i­cally by grow­ing our econ­omy. … We try to do that by, num­ber one, tak­ing care of our best in­dus­try … and try­ing to make the most out of it, which is our tourist econ­omy,” Lat­vala said.

Cor­co­ran said that, af­ter look­ing into Visit Florida’s fi­nances, “What we’ve found is $1mil­lion for a rap­per, $2 mil­lion to wrap a race car.”

The rap­per in ques­tion is Pit­bull, who was paid $1 mil­lion by Visit Florida to pro­mote the state, which he did by, in part, fea­tur­ing Florida beaches in the video to his song “Sexy Beaches.”

Cor­co­ran ar­gued that such spend­ing is not in the

best in­ter­ests of the state. But Lat­vala cited state econ­o­mists who say ev­ery dol­lar spent on tourism mar­ket­ing at the state level means $3.21 in­jected into the state econ­omy.

House lead­ers Mon­day an­nounced that mem­bers will vote sep­a­rately on mea­sures to im­pose greater over­sight on Visit Florida and elim­i­nat­ing En­ter­prise Florida.

“Di­vid­ing the is­sues into sep­a­rate bills al­lows for more en­gaged and mean­ing­ful de­bate while putting Visit Florida on a path to real re­form,” Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Mi­ami, wrote in a memo to House mem­bers.

Next Mon­day a House panel will take the Visit Florida mea­sures out of HB 7005, which con­tains the re­peal of sev­eral eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment pro­grams, and put them into HB 9, set­ting up a floor vote on both bills later in the week. The leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­gins Tues­day.

Fol­low­ing their 10-minute speeches, Cor­co­ran and Lat­vala took ques­tions, mostly on other top­ics, fromthe au­di­ence.

On ed­u­ca­tion: Cor­co­ran called for more school choice in poor ar­eas of the state with low-per­form­ing schools, while Lat­vala said the in­no­va­tive ideas on ed­u­ca­tion “are go­ing to come from the House.”

On the plan of Se­nate Pres­i­dent Joe Ne­gron, R Stu­art, to buy land to build a large reser­voir south of Lake Okee­chobee: Lat­vala said he sup­ported the plan but was con­cerned about peo­ple los­ing their jobs. He called for a mix of sev­eral ideas, in­clud­ing Ne­gron’s plan, buy­ing land north of the lake, and build­ing up the dike sur­round­ing Lake Okee­chobee.

On what the House, Se­nate and gov­er­nor agree on: When asked the ques­tion, Lat­vala joked, “Well, there’s a Mother’s Day res­o­lu­tion.” But in all se­ri­ous­ness, both said one thing vot­ers can ex­pect is a quick fix to the state’s death penalty. It’s cur­rently in le­gal limbo fol­low­ing a Florida Supreme Court de­ci­sion.

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