House still wants audit of Golf Hall of Fame; Senate may resist
Two days before the start of a special session, the Florida House on Monday rolled out a bill (HB 1A) to overhaul the state's economic development apparatus and restore VISIT Florida's budget to $76 million next year. The Senate may have other ideas, and there's already a skirmish over a House provision involving the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine.
The Times/Herald reported in March that House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Rep. Paul Renner and other Republicans were adamant in ending 24 specific tax credits that favor private entities as "corporate welfare." But the Golf Hall of Fame and a museum it operates were spared even though legislative analysts noted that the facility actually loses money in a state where return on investment (ROI) is the benchmark for measuring a tax credit's worthiness. At the time, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, called out Corcoran and accused him of failing his own transparency standards.
Now comes the second round.
Gov. Rick Scott has said he would veto the original tourism bill (HB 5501), which the House sent him Monday. At the same time, the new House proposal (1A) keeps language that would require the Department of Revenue to audit the Golf Hall of Fame by December and for the facility to certify to the state that all of its sales tax credits are used only to repay bonds or other debt obligations. That appears to mean no use of taxpayer money for operations. Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, whose district includes the museum, said Monday he has asked Latvala to remove that language before the Senate passes the new version, even though Hutson voted for HB 5501 (Latvala voted against it).
Hutson said the museum, the only one of its kind in the U.S., needs about $280,000 in taxpayer money to keep its doors open. He said every PGA and LPGA golf tournament on TV promotes the museum for free, and "it draws tourists there, and when tourists in, they obviously spend a lot of money," he said. An adult ticket to the Hall of Fame costs $21 and includes a free round on its 18-hole "putting course."