Orlando Sentinel by Gray Rohrer
August 25, 2017
House Speaker Richard Corcoran took aim at Visit Orlando and 11 other local tourism boards Friday, saying they would not be allowed to hide how they spend nearly $585 million in tax money.
“Let me be painstakingly clear, if you spend one dime of taxpayer money you will do it in a transparent and accountable way,” Corcoran said in an emailed statement. “These [tourist development councils] are sadly mistaken if they think Florida’s families don’t deserve to know how their tax dollars are spent.”
Corcoran’s move comes as Visit Orlando and the other similar boards, which include Experience Kissimmee and Orlando North Seminole County Tourism, severed ties with the statewide tourism council Visit Florida, in response to a new law requiring them to reveal the salaries of board members. That law was pushed heavily by Corcoran.
At Corcoran’s insistence, Visit Orlando and other tourism councils did give some financial information to the House earlier this year. Visit Orlando received $51 million in bed taxes in 2016 and spent $45.5 million on advertising, marketing and payroll. Its CEO, George Aguel, was paid $607,395 last year. But details on some specific contracts have remained in the dark.
Corcoran issued the statement on Friday after sending a letter to each of the boards demanding that they release more about their spending.
Local tourism councils rely on tourism taxes that aren’t part of the state budget. But such taxes were created by the state, and Tallahassee leaders govern how they can be used.
The letter comes after Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Comptroller Phil Diamond said there were no immediate plans to audit Visit Orlando, which has gone nine years without one.
Asked Friday for comment on Corcoran’s actions, Diamond sent an email stating, “We will review this and all relevant data when we perform the audit.”
Later, he said there no was no timetable for such an audit.
Jacobs was not in her office Friday afternoon and could not be reached for comment. Visit Orlando did not return an email or phone call seeking comment.
Corcoran’s letter said cutting ties with Visit Florida doesn’t mean the agency is exempt from providing more information.
“The fact that Visit Orlando is so concerned about what this financial information would reveal is further evidence that immediate oversight is necessary,” the letter states. “The revocation of partnership agreements with Visit Florida in no way protects your organization from Legislative inquiry, accountability or transparency.” [READ MORE]