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Columbia County Observer

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House Subcommittee Chairs Axe Visit FL & Enterprise FL, Fund Gov's Environmental Projects

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TALLAHASSEE – Key components of the House proposed fiscal year 2020 budget came into focus Tuesday when two appropriations subcommittee chairs released their fiscal year 2020 spending requests.

House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jay Trumbull’s (R-Panama City) proposed $15 billion plan would eliminate the state’s tourist marketing agency, Visit Florida, as well as Enterprise Florida, a state-sanctioned economic development nonprofit.

Both entities have long been targeted by Republican legislators as unnecessary quasi-public redundancies prone to questionable expenditures.

Meanwhile, under House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Chairwoman Holly Raschein’s (R-Key Largo) $3.97 billion budget proposal, Governor DeSantis would get nearly all the $625 million he’s requested for environmental projects.

Raschein’s fiscal year 2020 spending request spans annual budgets for the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The budget request includes $607.4 million for Everglades restoration and water improvement projects, including research into combating future outbreaks of toxic algae and red tide. DeSantis asked for $625 million as the first part of a four-year $2.5 billion funding plan.

Both chairs’ preliminary spending requests will be revised as the session proceeds. House committee chairs began submitting proposed spending plans Tuesday. Senate panel leaders will begin doing so on Wednesday.

In introducing his proposed spending plan at Tuesday’s House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, Trumbull said his $15 billion request “takes care of a significant portion of the majority of issues facing our state.”

Under Trumbull’s proposal, Visit Florida would get $19 million, which would cover the tourism agency until October 1. Created by the Legislature in 1996, Visit Florida receives an annual allocation from lawmakers and must be re-authorized every two years. If it is not reauthorized by lawmakers during this session, the agency ceases to exist on Oct. 1.

“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’s budget request reflects comments by House Speaker Jose Oliva (R-Miami Lakes) from last week.

“Right now, the only direction has been that we need to fund Visit Florida until it expires, and beyond that we haven’t had any intention,” Oliva said, adding he didn’t expect allowing Visit Florida to expire “to be contentious” in the House.

House Republican leaders have consistently for a decade opposed funding for Visit Florida and for Enterprise Florida, a public-private economic development agency that offers incentives to lure companies from other states that some GOP leaders have called “corporate welfare.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Senate, however, want to refund and reauthorize Visit Florida, setting up a possible collision between the chambers.

Senate Bill 178, sponsored by Florida Republican Party Chairman Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) seeks to approve DeSantis’ $76 million budget request for Visit Florida - the same as this year’s allocation - and allow the agency to continue its marketing efforts for years to come.

SB 178 was approved 18-0 by the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. Previously, it had secured unanimous endorsements from the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee and the Transportation, Tourism & Economic Development Subcommittee.

Its next stop is the Senate floor, where it is expected to be adopted with little dissent.

Trumbull’s budget request also eliminates the Department of Economic of Opportunity’s $85 million-a-year Job Growth Grant Fund, created in 2017 as a compromise between then Gov. Rick Scott, who aggressively supported the fund, and lawmakers over economic development spending.

DeSantis includes the $85 million in his $91.3 billion budget proposal, but is not an enthusiastic supporter of the program.

“If it’s something I don’t think is getting a bang for the buck, I won’t recommend it next year,” he said in February. “But I think for this year, it’s something I should see what I can do with it.”

This piece appeared in the Watchdog.org and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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