Visit Florida would get $50 million it’s seeking for tourism marketing next year, but Gov. Ron DeSantis would receive less than he wants for a fund he can dip into for infrastructure projects and workforce education, under initial budget proposals released Wednesday in the House.
The House Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee proposed the money for Visit Florida, which received $80 million from the Legislature for the current fiscal year. That amount included $50 million in state money and $30 million from federal stimulus programs.
Separately, the Senate on Thursday will consider a bill (SB 434) that would extend the life of Visit Florida to Oct. 1, 2031. A House version of the bill (HB 489) would extend Visit Florida to Oct. 1, 2028. Without such a bill, the tourism-marketing agency would be eliminated in October 2023.
While Visit Florida would receive $50 million that it has sought, the initial House budget proposal would provide $25 million for the state’s Job Growth Grant program, an economic-development fund that the governor can use. DeSantis requested $100 million for the fund in the coming year.
Legislative panels this week are releasing initial budget proposals as the House and Senate prepare to negotiate a spending plan for the fiscal year that will start July 1. The package then will go to DeSantis.
The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee rolled out a proposal that includes $100 million for the Florida Forever land-conservation program and $13.8 million to help manatees after a record 1,100 sea cows died in 2021.
“This provides the funds and 12 new (full-time employees) for research, monitoring, rescue and response to manatee issues, including $8.3 million to enhance and expand the network of specialized acute-care facilities to treat injured and distressed manatees,” Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Chairwoman Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City, said.
Many of the manatees died of starvation last year because of declining seagrass beds that are prime foraging areas. Poor water quality and algae blooms helped lead to the seagrass problems.
As part of his proposed $99.7 billion budget for next fiscal year, DeSantis asked for $125 million for a wastewater grant program that could help water quality, $50 million to meet nutrient-reduction goals and $3.8 million for the care and management of manatees. The proposed manatee funding included $2.9 million to treat injured and distressed manatees.
Separately, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it would seek nearly $7 million from lawmakers as part of long-term efforts to rebuild seagrass beds and wean manatees from artificial warm-water sites, including areas near power plants, that attract the sea cows in the winter.
The budget proposal by Tomkow’s subcommittee also calls for spending $442.5 million on Everglades restoration, up from $415 million in the current year. In addition, it would target $35 million to address red tide and algae blooms; $20 million to improve water quality in Biscayne Bay; and $14.6 million for coral reef protection.
In the Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, Vice Chairwoman Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, said $268.1 million is proposed for affordable housing programs, up from $209.2 million in the current year.
Also, the panel would provide $8 million for cybersecurity grants for local supervisors of elections, $1.2 million for voter registration activities, and $1.2 million to cover 15 full-time employees in a new office that would investigate election crimes.
“These personnel will help support the integrity of our election systems,” Persons-Mulicka said.
DeSantis requested $5.7 million for a 52-person Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State.