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Florida House, Rick Scott again at loggerheads over VISIT FLORIDA

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House Speaker Richard Corcoran offered a compromise Monday in his plan to kill the public-private VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing agency, but Gov. Rick Scott rejected it as a “massive cut.”

One day before a bill (HB 7005) aimed at eliminating the organization gets its second and final committee review, an amendment to be offered by GOP state Rep. Paul Renner would save the agency, but slash its budget to $25 million. Its latest budget is nearly $80 million.

The amendment also would require the agency submit to a list of demands, including making it “submit a detailed operating budget each year,” having its CEO be confirmed by the Senate, and “remov(ing) the public records exemption for marketing projects and research.”

Moreover, the bill would still get rid of the public-private Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

“The Florida House is proposing a 67 percent cut to tourism marketing,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a statement. “More than a million Florida families rely on jobs in our tourism industry and are threatened with this massive cut.

“Unfortunately, some politicians in the Florida House think fighting for jobs is simply hysteria and don’t understand that jobs are not expendable to families who have to put food on the table,” she said.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, is out to kill VISIT FLORIDA, Enterprise Florida, and most of state government’s business incentive programs – what he calls “corporate welfare.” Scott, a Naples Republican, says they all help create jobs.

Earlier Monday, Corcoran called defenders of VISIT FLORIDA “increasingly hysterical, complete with their ‘Chicken Little’ predictions of economic collapse, state income taxes, and tens of thousands out of work.”

The agency faced criticism for keeping secret a promotional contract it negotiated with South Florida rapper Pitbull. Corcoran sued to get the contract released to the public, but Pitbull himself published a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

“The burden is now on the defenders of VISIT FLORIDA to decide if they are willing to accept accountability and transparency or if they are looking only to return to the good old days of operating in the shadows,” Corcoran said in a statement. “… Rest assured, the House will not spend another penny on VISIT FLORIDA should accountability and transparency measures be rejected.”

Schutz responded, “Gov. Scott believes in transparency and accountability for any taxpayer dollars used and that is why he has demanded changes and brought in new leadership at VISIT FLORIDA.”

CEO Will Seccombe stepped down after Scott called for his resignation, and Ken Lawson moved from being secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to now head the tourism agency.

Meantime, GOP state Rep. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, a Scott ally, has filed legislation to overhaul the agencies, not abolish them.

The bill will next be heard 1 p.m. Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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