June 7, 2016 – The News Service of Florida
by Jim Turner
Operations at the state’s public-private space and tourism agencies appear financially sound, even as one has paid undisclosed amounts to a Miami rapper and an English football club.
But Florida’s jobs chief said Space Florida and Visit Florida could still be tweaked for more “accountability and efficiency.”
Separate audits of Space Florida and Visit Florida ordered by Gov. Rick Scott deemed each to have a “sound accounting structure,” according to Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor.
Still, Proctor, whose department conducted the audits, noted that the reports offer recommendations for both agencies that include capping executive salaries and dipping more into private-sector money to help cover executive pay.
Visit Florida, which has gotten credit for helping Scott surpass a goal of 100 million tourists a year, has also been advised to adopt state standards for staff travel expenses and to better identify public and private records to improve public accountability.
The tourism agency has drawn some scrutiny over its spending last year on issues such as an undisclosed contract with Miami rapper Pitbull to be an ambassador for the state. Also, Visit Florida drew questions for a confidential contract to promote Florida through the London-based Fulham Football Club, a second-division soccer league team owned by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid “Shad” Khan.
“Our review of several high profile contracts (e.g. Pit Bull, Fulham Football Club, and foreign journalists Familiarization (FAM) Tours) revealed no contract compliance/procurement issues or any concerns related to the benefits of expending public funds on these projects,” the audit said. “However, we recommend Visit Florida develop a standardized process to identify which records/documents are available for review or external public record requests and which records/documents are to be held confidential.”
Visit Florida President and CEO Will Seccombe said in a release he was “pleased” with the findings and that his agency is working on a response to the Department of Economic Opportunity report.
In the last four fiscal years — including the current one that ends June 30 — the state has contributed $264.5 million to Visit Florida, while the private sector has pitched in $503.7 million.
In the budget that Scott recently signed for the upcoming fiscal year, Visit Florida will receive $74 million, of which $24 million comes from a tax on rental cars.
At Space Florida, created to expand the state’s space industry, the recommendations seek further evaluation into the agency’s “unique funding mechanisms.”
Space Florida, which generates revenue through the management of the former Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center as a testing ground for new companies and technologies, has been budgeted for a total of $49.5 million from 2012 through the current fiscal year.
The agency will get $17.5 million from the Legislature for the upcoming fiscal year. The state money includes $1.5 million to promote businesses involved in space tourism. [READ MORE]