House leader wants answers from local tourism agencies on spending

House Speaker Richard Corcoran (AP Photo by Steve Cannon)

Tallahassee Democrat by Arek Sarkissian

August 25, 2017

House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants a dozen tourism offices to show how they spent more than $550 million in locally collected taxpayer dollars after they stepped away from VISIT FLORIDA to avoid new transparency rules.

On Friday, Corcoran sent letters to the 12 tourism development councils, saying he believes they severed partnerships with VISIT FLORIDA to avoid disclosing how they spend taxpayer dollars. But the House still has the authority to review them.

A state economic report shows the 12 councils received $585.3 million in locally collected bed taxes last year. The largest was was Visit Orlando, which received more than $245.6 million.

“Rather than following VISIT FLORIDA’s lead and embrace the financial transparency and accountability measures currently in use by VISIT FLORIDA, Visit Orlando has instead opted to remove itself from partnership agreements with VISIT FLORIDA in a vain effort to hide taxpayer-financed activities from the public,” Corcoran wrote. “The fact that Visit Orlando is so concerned about what this financial information would reveal is further evidence that immediate oversight is necessary.”

Corcoran’s letter signals one of the House’s priorities for next year’s legislative session. The Land O’ Lakes Republican will announce if he will run for governor when session concludes in March.

The same letters were sent to tourism agencies in Tampa Bay, Palm Beach, Kissimmee, the Florida Keys, and Miami. Offices in Nassau, Brevard, Franklin, Seminole, Santa Rosa and Walton County also were on the list.

In June, VISIT FLORIDA sent an email to 55 locally operated tourism councils after the state agency was placed under new, unfamiliar leadership and tougher disclosure rules. The message suggested those groups sever contractually forged partnerships with VISIT FLORIDA that included them in certain marketing programs in exchange for fees. [READ MORE]

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