Tallahassee, FL—Today, Speaker Richard Corcoran sent letters to 12 local tourism development councils who have severed ties with Visit Florida. Corcoran accuses the TDC’s of doing so, “under the false presumption that such an action would shield them from legislative oversight.”
Upon sending the letter Speaker Corcoran said, “Let me be painstakingly clear, if you spend one dime of taxpayer money you will do it in a transparent and accountable way. These TDCs are sadly mistaken if they think Florida’s families don’t deserve to know how their tax dollars are spent. It should also alarm every Floridian that these 12 organizations in particular, funded with hundreds of millions of dollars of your money, made the choice to hide from transparency rather than embrace it.”
Since November 2016, the Florida House has pursued an aggressive approach to force transparency and accountability in state government. The Legislature passed HB 1A in 2017—a significant reform package, embraced by VISIT Florida leadership, to bring greater accountability and transparency to its operations.
After the passage of these transparency measures some local tourism development councils thought they could avoid these new requirements by ending partnership agreements with VISIT Florida.
Those councils are:
· Brevard County Tourism (Florida’s Space Coast)
· Experience Kissimmee
· Franklin County Tourist Development Council
· Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau
· Orlando North Seminole County Tourism
· Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Office
· Visit Orlando
· Visit South Walton
· Visit Tampa Bay
· Florida Keys & Key West Tourism Development Council
· Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau
· Discover the Palm Beaches
All told these 12 TDC’s collect $585 million in bed tax revenue or 62% of total bed taxes collected statewide. Those taxes are collected on both in-state and out-of-state visitors.
An example letter from the Speaker is reprinted below. Actual letters are attached:
It has come to my attention that ((TDC NAME)) Board of Directors has recently attempted to distance itself from VISIT Florida and intends to sever its long-standing association with VISIT Florida. This attempt to shield financial information from public scrutiny required by the transparency and accountability provisions of House Bill 1A is not acceptable. The Legislature passed these important reforms and accountability measures to ensure that money taken from the taxpayer, nearly $1 billion in taxpayer funds, is spent in a transparent and accountable manner. The disclosure requirements of House Bill 1A are not onerous. The bill only requires local tourist development entities to report their direct expenditures, including salary data, to satisfy the statutory reporting obligations.
It appears that, rather than following VISIT Florida’s lead and embracing the financial transparency and accountability measures currently in use by Visit Florida, ((TDC NAME)) has instead opted to remove itself from partnership agreements with VISIT Florida to hide taxpayer-financed activities from the public. The fact that ((TDC NAME)) is so concerned about what this financial information would reveal is further evidence that immediate oversight is necessary. The revocation of partnership agreements with VISIT Florida in no way protects your organization from Legislative inquiry, accountability or transparency. If an organization takes one dime of taxpayer money, the Legislature has the absolute authority to review expenditures and we will push forward to review any entity that attempts to sever ties with VISIT Florida.
As you know, I am entrusted to use taxpayer funds for the good of all Floridians. As such, I am committed to safeguarding those funds. Because local tourist development entities receive far more taxpayer funds than Visit Florida – nearly $1 Billion vs. $76 million – I will be doubling my efforts to ensure that we are fiscally conservative in the use of taxpayer funds funneled to tourist development entities so that the public knows exactly what they are getting for their money.
/s/ Richard Corcoran