March 20, 2019 - 9:00am
The tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida would only be funded for three months, while Enterprise Florida wouldn’t get any state money as part of a budget proposal released Tuesday by a House panel for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Also left out of the House proposal was continuation of an $85-million-a-year economic-development effort, known as the Job Growth Grant Fund, that was created in a compromise between the House and former Gov. Rick Scott.
Meanwhile, the House would set up a $50 million grant program to offset local and county revenue losses and operating costs from Hurricane Michael, and the state Division of Emergency Management would receive money for 20 new positions.
The House proposal was released Tuesday by the chamber’s Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee. It could be changed by the House in the coming weeks and then will be subject to negotiations with the Senate as lawmakers finalize a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The Senate proposal that covers similar areas of government and programs will be released Wednesday.
Rep. Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican who chairs the House subcommittee, said the $15 billion House proposal “takes care of a significant portion of the majority of issues facing our state.”
House Republican leaders in recent years have opposed funding for Visit Florida and for Enterprise Florida, a public-private economic development agency. Scott, who left office in January, battled to maintain funding for the agencies.
Under the House proposal, Visit Florida would get $19 million, which would cover the tourism agency until Oct. 1. That is when the agency is scheduled to be “sunset,” or eliminated, unless it is reauthorized. The House wouldn’t provide any state funding for Enterprise Florida.
“It (Visit Florida) is slated to sunset, and so we are funding it, that’s what we’re statutorily bound to do,” Trumbull said. “Until we see a piece of legislation that continues that, that’s where we’ll stay.”
Trumbull echoed a comment made this month by House Speaker Jose Oliva about the fate of the tourism-marketing agency.
The Senate has moved forward with a bill (SB 178) that would provide $76 million in funding for Visit Florida, the same amount as in the current year and matching an amount requested by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Senate bill would also reauthorize --- with no end date --- the tourism agency in state law.
An identical bill in the House (HB 6031) has not been heard in committees.
Enterprise Florida also has been targeted by the House, where leaders have characterized incentives used to lure companies from other states as “corporate welfare.”
In 2017, lawmakers created the Job Growth Grant Fund after a battle between Scott and House leaders about economic-development spending. The fund, which Scott depleted shortly before DeSantis took office, is located in the Department of Economic of Opportunity.
DeSantis has backed keeping the fund, at least for this year.
“If it’s something I don’t think is getting a bang for the buck, I won’t recommend it next year,” DeSantis said in February after including the fund in his $91.3 billion budget proposal. “But I think for this year, it’s something I should see what I can do with it.”
The House budget proposal includes $12.5 million for the public-private agency Space Florida, which DeSantis has supported as he seeks to make the state a key part of President Donald Trump’s proposed Space Force.
“Space Florida, the entity the Legislature created to grow Florida’s place in the industry, continues to attract new employers and revitalize the market, generating thousands of high-wage jobs and tens of billions of dollars of economic activity,” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, a former House member who now chairs the Space Florida Board of Directors, tweeted Tuesday.
The House proposal also includes a $50 million grant program to help Northwest Florida counties severely damaged in October’s Hurricane Michael. Along with helping offset local and county revenue losses and operating costs, the money would be available for debris removal, beach renourishment and infrastructure repair.
A separate line item offers $49.45 million in affordable-housing money for low- and moderate-income families in hurricane-impacted counties, mirroring the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program.
Storm-related funding would send $2.2 million to Bay County for emergency protective measures, $750,000 for parks and beaches access and $3 million for road repairs. The city of Parker is budgeted for $37,500 for road safety, $25,000 for protective measures and $183,000 for building repairs, all tied to the storm.
The proposal also includes $1.8 million to help nine largely rural counties --- Bradford, Columbia, Franklin, Gadsden, Hamilton, Hardee, Suwannee, Union, and Wakulla --- bulk up emergency operations centers to minimum hurricane building standards.
The state Division of Emergency Management would get $1.5 million to cover the addition of 20 new positions, $1.5 million for redesign of the state Emergency Operations Center and $350,000 to address employee workload due to recent storms.