TALLAHASSEE — Despite opposition from the tourism industry, a House committee Monday moved forward with a proposal that would allow counties to spend so-called “bed” tax money on efforts to combat flooding.
The proposal (HB 1429), sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, would expand the way that tourist-development tax money can be used. He pointed to projections that sea-level rise will cause major flooding problems in the future.
“Quite frankly, Florida’s facing major challenges that require bold solutions,” Avila said before the House Ways & Means Committee voted unanimously to support the bill. “That’s the reality.”
But the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and other parts of the tourism industry are fighting the bill because it could lead to money being diverted away from tourism promotion and advertising. It also comes at a time when the industry is trying to recover after taking a massive financial hit during the coronavirus pandemic.
“With every additional use that we adopt into the statute … we dilute the usefulness and effectiveness of these dollars,” said Samantha Padgett, general counsel of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. “We fundamentally create what is a slush fund for issues and projects that haven’t otherwise been prioritized in our funds.”
But Avila and Rep. Michael Grieco, D-Miami Beach, said addressing flooding will be pivotal for the tourism industry in the future.
“There is no Florida to visit, and there’s no cities to visit if they’re underwater,” Grieco said.
Counties are allowed to collect tourist development taxes on such things as hotel stays and use the money for a variety of purposes, including tourism promotion and advertising, beach improvements and convention center and stadium projects. Tax rates vary, and some local governments can levy what are known as convention development taxes, which also are part of Avila’s bill.
The bill also would require any future increases in the taxes to be approved by referendum, a change that has drawn objections from the Florida Association of Counties. A Senate version of the bill (SB 2008), sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, has not been heard in committees.
After years of Republican leaders staying away from the issues of climate change and sea-level rise, Gov. Ron DeSantis and top lawmakers, including House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, have focused this year on proposals to mitigate flooding.
Avila said local governments would not be required to use tourist-development money for flooding-related projects but would have the option. He acknowledged that the tourism industry wouldn’t support the possibility of using the money for such projects but, like Grieco, said flooding poses a major danger to the industry.
“If there’s widespread flooding, what industry do you think would be most impacted?” Avila asked. “If I’m a tourist from outside of the state of Florida … and I am starting to see hotels, particularly in South Florida, whether it’s Palm Beach, whether it’s Broward, whether it’s Miami-Dade, whether it’s Monroe, if I’m starting to see that, quite frankly, everything’s flooded, why would I go there?”
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