Governor, House sharpen attacks as fight escalates

by: Chris Heath Updated:

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Two rooms, two crowds, two messages, and two republican politicians on a collision course.

Wednesday night in Tallahassee, republican lawmakers got a preview of a video criticizing the states use of tax dollars for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.  The groups have been under fire from house leadership for months, with a the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee voting last week to eliminate both agencies.  In the video, news clips from across Florida are intertwined with examples of incentive problems and questionable uses of tax dollars for tourism promotion.

The video, which was tweeted out by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is meant to encapsulate everything lawmakers say is wrong with the state incentive and tourism programs.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Governor Rick Scott, who has been pushing to keep both groups, made a pair of stops.

The governor’s first stop was at the Brevard Zoo, where announced the state’s tourism numbers.   In 2016, Florida broke a record, welcoming almost 113 million visitors to the state.

“Look at the tax revenue we’re receiving, the return is astronomical,” said Governor Scott.  “Last year tourists paid 25 percent of our sales tax.”

The Governor’s second stop came in St. Cloud where he met with tourism officials and business leaders.  The location of the stop was no accident, it was right in the heart of Representative Mike LaRosa’s district.  Last week, Rep. LaRosa was one of 10 members of the house subcommittee who voted to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.

“The expectation is in your community, you represent your constituents and in our community we recognize the importance of jobs, the importance of tourist jobs,” said Scott.

Scott has been holding these jobs roundtables for the last several days, making stops in Palm Beach County and Sarasota, places where lawmakers have voted to eliminate Visit Florida and EFI.

“Just in Central Florida, over 110,000 jobs have been created in the last three years and over 95% of them came without incentives,” says Andres Malave of Americans for Prosperity, the right-leaning group leading the push for elimination.  “People in Central Florida, in Florida, are working hard and expanding their businesses and we don’t need these incentives to compete and take away resources, the role of government shouldn’t be to pick winners and losers, but to create a level playing field.”

The money requested by the Governor for Visit Florida and EFI still needs to be approved by the legislature, which will not meet until March.

However, there is another committee hearing next Tuesday to discuss the two agencies.  On Thursday, Governor Scott encouraged those in attendance at his jobs meeting to call or meet with their legislator, or if they had the time, travel to Tallahassee to testify before lawmakers.