Tallahassee Democrat by Arek Sarkissian
October 26, 2017
A trio of bills House Speaker Richard Corcoran unveiled Thursday would force local tourism and economic development agencies to publicize lucrative contracts, undergo regular audits and stop using trade secrets to hide financial deals.
Local tourism agencies across the state rely on more than $890 million in tax revenue that state economists expect counties to collect this year from hotel stays. Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, said local governments should take note of how that cash is spent and then consider pushing it toward more critical issues.
“Should we purchase the fleet of cars for our traveling roadside service or is it better to stop pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage into our waterways?” Cororan said. “I think that’s a good question for local government to wrestle with.”
Corcoran said new transparency measures passed by the Legislature earlier this year for VISIT FLORIDA also apply to local tourism groups. But the new transparency proposal would make those measures clear.
“What we’re trying to do now is make it clear to the world that those rules apply,” Corcoran said. “That’s what we’ve been fighting with them about for the past 12 months.”
But Robert Skorb, executive director of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, said local tourism offices are already transparent and Corcoran’s proposal would only add bureaucracy and redundancy.
“If there are ways to further strengthen accountability, we welcome the opportunity to have a dialogue on an approach that protects the jobs of 1.4 million Floridians whose livelihoods depend on tourism,” Skorb wrote in a statement.
The law governing the tourism tax limits its spending to items related to attractions, including beaches. But other issues not listed in the law could impact tourism. For instance, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard, wants to use $14.1 million in tourism tax revenue to fix aging sewer lines.
“So we’re going to build another 18 stadiums even though the others we already built are being utilized just fine, and meanwhile we’re going to let sludge and sewage seep into the ground all day long,” Corcoran said. “Randy is onto exactly what we should be doing here and he should absolutely be a pit bull about it.”
Two other bills filed by Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, would tighten open records exemptions protecting trade secrets. At least one local tourism agency uses the trade secret exemption to shield financial details in vendor contracts.
“Our impetus was this, if you spend one dollar of taxpayer money, then you don’t have a trade secret,” Corcoran said. “To the extent that you have a contract and you’re getting one dollar of taxpayer money we want that to be public.” [READ MORE]