With two state programs being challenged by Rep. Paul Renner's bill, what's at stake for Flagler County?
Tension can be felt from Tallahassee throughout the state of Florida, as the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee conducts the first hearing for a bill that could eliminate Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.
The 172-page proposal, presented by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, also addresses eliminating sales tax exemptions for filmmaking, and would stop professional teams from using money from unrealized hotel bed taxes to fund or renovate stadiums.
A week ago, Gov. Rick Scott proposed an $83.5 billion state budget with $76 million for Visit Florida and $85 million for Enterprise Florida.
State Rep. Paul Renner’s concerns around Visit Florida stem from issues that have brought the quasi-government agency into the news concerning recent multi-million dollar contracts with rapper Pit Bull ($1 million to attract people to the beaches); a British soccer team for $1.2 million; and a Le Mans-style car racing team for $2.8 million.
Renner, who sponsored the bill and was elected to represent Flagler County in the House, expressed concern as to how the taxpayers' money was being spent.
Helga van Eckert, the executive director of Flagler County Department of Economic Opportunity, said she was disappointed in the bill.
“We rely heavily on Enterprise Florida and the state initiatives we use to encourage business to come to Flagler County,” van Eckert said. “We have to look at the big picture. The scorched earth process is not productive.”
Van Eckert spoke about a company currently considering moving their operations to Flagler and bringing 250 jobs with them, with an average salary of $47,000.
Flagler County Chamber of Commerce President Rebecca DeLorenzo also weighed in on the issue, sending an "action alert" to chamber members, asking them to contact Renner and other representatives to save Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, which she called "two important economic development partners in Tallahassee."
If Renner's bill passes, millions of dollars would return to the general revenue fund to be used for education, a trimmer marketing program and other uses.
“There are a lot of critical places we could apply the money, including returning it to the taxpayer,” Renner said. “Elected officials, government programs, smaller agencies, local, county and federal — none have the guarantee of eternity."
Moreover, despite the governor's statement that tourism has risen from 82 million visitors per year to 110 million since Scott was elected (see the box), Renner questioned the need to market Florida as a tourist destination in the first place.
“Florida is not a secret, and Disney is not a secret,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to make a substantial change.”