A Special Session on Visit Florida? It Could Very Well Happen

Flickr/aaronhawkins

Texas could be heading for a special session over transgender residents using the bathroom. In Florida, our legislators could be heading down the same road over tourism funding.

In a state that has constantly set tourism records recently, the Florida House of Representatives, led by Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land-O-Lakes), decided to punish Visit Florida, the state agency that markets the Sunshine State, over what it deemed as misuse of public funding, such as when the agency paid rapper Pitbull $1 million to film a music video and promote the state.

That, and the crusade to extract “corporate welfare” from the Sunshine State, pushed the ultra-conservative House to first abolish the agency altogether. After some wheeling and dealing with the more moderate Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart), the House agreed to keep the agency around, but with tighter transparency and a $25 million budget, a $51 million cut that has tourism officials from Pensacola to Key West predicting tourism Armageddon if Gov. Rick Scott signs off on the nearly $83 billion budget.

That has some lawmakers openly calling for Gov. Scott, who has fruitlessly spent months trying to not only keep Visit Florida flushed with cash, but to also bolster its funding, to call for a special session to try to win back some, if not all of Visit Florida’s funding.

How will that happen?

When the governor finally receives the budget, he can do one of two things: veto the entire budget or veto large swaths of the bills. The bill to curtail Visit Florida’s funding (HB 5501) can be vetoed without nuking the entire budget.

That would be a tricky move.

If Scott veto HB 5501, that would leave the agency with no funding at all, something that even diehard Visit Florida enemies may not be able to stomach. That could very well lead to special session with funding for Visit Florida, and possibly incentives for the equally embattled Enterprise Florida, back on the table.

But Scott should also be mindful that the conservative House originally wanted to do away with the tourism agency altogether, and a veto of the funding may very well play into Corcoran’s hands.

So if Scott is willing to go the veto route, his best hope is to pair the Visit Florida veto with another veto of a bill that would surly get lawmakers to come back to Tallahassee for a showdown.

He may have it in the highly controversial HB 7069, an education bill that, among other things, offer its own dose of corporate welfare by requiring school districts to shuttle some of its capital and Title 1 budget to privately-ran charter schools (more on this in a later column).

Granted, Scott has always been a proponent of so-called “school-choice,” and in a normal legislative year, he would have signed HB 7069 in a heartbeat; but after Corcoran went after his two most precious economic babies, Scott may look to take HB 7069 hostage in order to get more funding for Visit Florida and incentives for Enterprise Florida.

It’s a high stakes game of political chicken, and Floridians from all sides of the political spectrum are about to see which side blinks first.

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