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By Dan Sweeney | South Florida Sun Sentinel

State Sen. Jack Latvala brought boxing gloves for House Speaker House Speaker Richard Corcoran as they presented their sides in the ongoing battle of business incentives and tourism marketing.

“I’ve been up there 22 years, and he has flat picked more fights with more people than anybody before,” Latvala said.

The two Republicans spoke to more than 700 members of the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches on Monday in West Palm Beach.

Corcoran and some other House Republicans have called for killing Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, the state’s public-private partnerships behind business incentives and tourism marketing, respectively.

Latvala, along with many other senators and Gov. Rick Scott, support fully funding both agencies to a combined total of more than $160 million.

Corcoran argues business incentives and tourism marketing amount to little more than “corporate welfare,” while Latvala maintains that they are necessary components of Florida’s economy.

Latvala said that killing Visit Florida outright “would be disastrous.”

The best way to raise the revenue to address Florida’s many needs is not raising taxes but “organically by growing our economy. … We try to do that by, number one, taking care of our best industry … and trying to make the most out of it, which is our tourist economy,” Latvala said.

Corcoran said that, after looking into Visit Florida’s finances, “What we’ve found is $1 million for a rapper, $2 million to wrap a race car.”

The rapper in question is Miami’s own Pitbull, who was paid $1 million by Visit Florida to promote the state, which he did by, in part, featuring Florida beaches in the video to his song “Sexy Beaches.”

Corcoran argued that such spending is not in the best interests of the state. But Latvala cited state economists who say every dollar spent on tourism marketing at the state level means $3.21 injected into the state economy.

House leaders Monday announced that members will vote separately on measures to impose greater oversight on Visit Florida and eliminating Enterprise Florida.

“Dividing the issues into separate bills allows for more engaged and meaningful debate while putting Visit Florida on a path to real reform,” Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, wrote in a memo to House members.

Next Monday a House panel will take the Visit Florida measures out of HB 7005, which contains the repeal of several economic development programs, and put them into HB 9, setting up a floor vote on both bills later in the week. The legislative session begins Tuesday.

Following their 10-minute speeches, Corcoran and Latvala took questions, mostly on other topics, from the audience.

On education: Corcoran called for more school choice in poor areas of the state with low-performing schools, while Latvala said the innovative ideas on education “are going to come from the House.”
On the plan of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to buy land to build a large reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee: Latvala said he supported the plan but was concerned about people losing their jobs. He called for a mix of several ideas, including Negron’s plan, buying land north of the lake, and building up the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
On what the House, Senate and governor agree on: When asked the question, Latvala joked, “Well, there’s a Mother’s Day resolution.” But in all seriousness, both said one thing voters can expect is a quick fix to the state’s death penalty. It’s currently in legal limbo following a Florida Supreme Court decision.