Yet another attack on tourism funding should go nowhere
You have to wonder what planet some of our legislators are on and what they think Floridians live on.
Our concern is an effort to strip away taxes that build tourism precisely when receipts have plunged and the need to add visitors is growing because of the Covid-19 travel nosedive.
In the past year Florida lost 19% of all visitor industry jobs, 236,000 persons who the industry no longer pays. The former flood of visitors from Europe is a trickle. Cruise ships go nowhere. Hundreds of thousands of families that relied on visitors lost income.
Yet last week the Florida House voted 114 to 2 to allow tourist development tax receipts to be diverted to fund flooding-related projects. Local organizations like the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau are using those funds today to promote the tourism industry we must rebuild.
We all agree flooding projects are vital. If there were no other funds to enact them we’d be torn about which of two vital uses – flood prevention or tourism growth – should get how much of the tax income. But it’s a false choice often applied when someone wants to raid dedicated funds, because many other far more logical sources for flooding projects are available.
For example, Florida is about to get $16 billion from the US government to help recover from Covid-19. With billions flowing in, flood control is obviously a wise use for some of that money. It was never more pigheaded to slash visitor promotion around the state on the wild claim that it’s the only way to aid flood control.
But this isn’t about funding flood control. It’s all about the visitor industry. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bryan Avila, a year ago also tried to kill local visitor industry funds from the state without any specious claim that he really aimed to increase flood control. It was a straight-out attack on visitor funding.
Tourism is no fringe issue. It for a century has been the goose that lays Florida’s golden eggs. It supports real estate and development, bringing in future renters, buyers and whole businesses. The entire economy is bound up in tourism.
Take Miami-Dade: we have today 8.2% unemployed, 105,400 persons jobless. Yet almost one-third of them can be directly tied to the visitor industry, which lost 34,900 jobs in the county from last March to this March. Visitor jobs here were in fact growing as the pandemic hit, so the direct impact is surely more than a third of the jobless.
Then there is indirect impact. How many jobs did we lose in logistics, wholesaling, trucking, storage and more just to handle goods that a year ago were bound for cruise ships that today sit in port? You could make a similar case regarding lost visits from Europe, which also had been growing when the pandemic hit. And how about service and goods providers to hotels that now run below capacity? We’re talking about tens of thousands of additional lost jobs.
This is no time to block the industry from promoting alternative travel. We should be promoting safety, plus keeping desire to travel here strong, because it’s no sure thing that all of our lost visitors will ever return. Other regions will try to chip off pieces for themselves.
When Florida legislators target flood control and environmental needs we support them 100%. But in undercutting another vital need, they took a wrong turn. Fortunately, a Florida Senate bill needed for this misbegotten effort to become law is stalled – long may it rot untouched.
This House bill picks on a struggling but essential industry. The funds it targets come from hotel room taxes that the covid crisis has diminished. In 2019 in Miami-Dade these bed taxes totaled $5.4 million; in 2020 the total was just $2.3 million, a 56.7% drop.
Those funds also build convention centers and sports venues, and debt for those needs still must still be repaid even while tax collections shrink. Going after that money for any other use attacks tourism at its most vulnerable time.
Again, you have to wonder where those who support weakening tourism are coming from. With hundreds of thousands of lost jobs today, all they have to do is look around at their neighbors and constituents who are hurting. What can they possibly be thinking?