Speaker Richard Corcoran and the Florida House are going to do what they've got to do, I know that. And, Lord knows, I like a lot of what they do. But kill Visit Florida? Please reconsider, ladies and gentlemen.
Forgive me if I repeat what I've said before, but I can't help myself: Florida needs its tourism promotion arm muscling up now more than ever.
On Thursday I heard from U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. I expect every news outlet in Florida did, too. He wanted us to know what Gov. Rick Scott wants the Legislature to know -- that Visit Florida has value like nobody's business.
"This marks the sixth straight year of tourism growth for Florida, and I would like to give credit where credit is due: to the hard-working people of Florida's travel and hospitality sectors, and particularly to VISIT FLORIDA and its supporters," wrote Florida resident Dow. Really, it was a press release congratulating Florida on a record near-113 million visits to the state in 2016.
Actually, I didn't mind what it was. Gushy press release? Of course. But facts are facts, no matter how they come to you. Say what you like, Dow and the USTA know what they're talking about. Nobody I know watches tourism with a keener eye in all 50 states.
"Florida faced a multitude of headwinds last year, including natural disasters, the Zika virus outbreak and the tragic nightclub attack in Orlando," Dow reminded us. "Through it all, the destination marketing efforts of VISIT FLORIDA kept visitors aware of all the state has to offer -- and preserved the livelihoods of the 1.4 million Floridians whose jobs depend on a healthy tourism market."
Dow then made his pitch to keep legislators thinking smart.
"Despite these obvious benefits," he continued, "some Florida policymakers are questioning the state's budgetary commitment to tourism promotion. Examples abound of what a risky experiment this is: for instance, when Colorado eliminated its state tourism office in the 1990s, it slipped from the top U.S. summer resort destination to 17th place within one year. Colorado is still, to this day, working to recover its national market share."
No wonder the Rocky Mountain State approved recreational marijuana.
"Those who argue that 'people will come to Florida no matter what' are willfully choosing to ignore a very obvious reality," he said. "Cutting or eliminating Florida's public travel promotion funding is a gift to competing destinations like California -- which, I might add, has doubled its state tourism marketing budget over the last few years and is already working to lure visitors away from Florida's beaches to California's. Given the state's very significant challenges last year, it is simply not credible to suggest this record level of visitation would have happened without the efforts of VISIT FLORIDA.
"From my home in St. Pete to Tallahassee and across the state and country, I constantly point out that strong state tourism budgets mean strong communities, and Florida is among the strongest examples of these investments at work.
"I congratulate Governor Rick Scott, the VISIT FLORIDA team and tourism partners large and small for achieving record visitation last year, and sincerely hope state lawmakers notice these results of robust public funding for destination marketing."
It can't be easy for Dow -- living in, and loving, the Sunshine State as he does -- watching legislators scramble to starve its No. 1 golden goose. I don't know what it is about us Republicans. We get cocky, I think. We push the envelope, we mess with success. I don't know if that's arrogant or just part of our GOP DNA.
My dad -- a good and committed Republican all his life -- told me about 50 years ago the thing that frustrated him most about Republicans was "they can't stop tinkering ... soon as they get a Rolex, they want to take it apart." Why? I asked him. "So they can pretend they're God and prove they're better than their creations," he told me.
Since then, I've seen proof of that a dozen times over. Pretty smart, my dad. But I really hope I don't see his theory borne out during the 2017 Florida legislative session. Please don't take the Rolex apart this time.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith