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Rick Scott enlists state bonds chief in fight for Visit Florida funding

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Gov. Rick Scott has distributed a letter by Ben Watkins, director of the Division of Bond Finance, to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating.

The letter, dated Tuesday, addressed to Jack Latvala in the Senate and Carlos Trujillo in the House, warns that cutting back on tourism promotion has harmed the economies of states that have attempted it, including Colorado and Pennsylvania.

“Even a 2 percent reduction in visitors would result in a loss of $2.2 billion in travel spending and $225 million in tax revenue,” Watkins wrote.

“If funding for Visit Florida is reduced as much as the Florida House has proposed, the credit rating on our cities and counties could be negatively impacted, especially for communities that rely heavily on tourism and tourist-related revenues,” he wrote.

“I believe it is important for policymakers to be informed about the important spending decisions and their financial and economic consequences,” he said.

The proposed House budget would provide $25 million for Visit Florida, and the Senate would provide $76 million. Scott has asked for $100 million.

The warning came as House and Senate negotiators worked toward a framework to resolve nearly $4 billion in differences on spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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