Monday, November 23, 2015

Rep. Matt Gaetz proposes unconstitutional delegation to trade group to appoint TDC members

Some TDC bed taxes fund would be diverted to sheriffs and Tallahassee, and 2/3 of TDC members would be chosen by a trade association under legislation proposed by State of Florida House of Representatives Finance Committee. How gauche and louche.Rep. Matt Gaetz, a graduate of the law school at the College of William & Mary, should review the non-delegation doctrine, which prohibits delegation to industry groups of government functions: he proposes taking away the County's power to pick Tourist Development Council (TDC) members and handing it over to a trade group, which would pick six of nine members of local TDCs. A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935). He also proposes giving bed tax money to sheriffs, and taking away tens of millions of dollars of bed tax money and sending it to Tallahassee.
Rep. Matt Gaetz crafting plan to boost Visit Florida, restrict tourism councils
By MATT DIXON 5:13 a.m. | Nov. 23, 2015 1 follow this reporter
TALLAHASSEE — The House of Representative’s tax committee is preparing to consider a plan that would rewrite how the state divides the money it generates from the 100 million tourists who visit Florida’s beaches and theme parks each year.
It would redirect the flow of tourist development taxes, which are collected in most counties on hotel and condo rentals. The money is used by counties to fund regional tourism promotion.
Under a proposal being crafted by Rep Matt Gaetz, chairman of the House finance and tax committee, 20 percent of the money raised from tourist development taxes would become an annual revenue stream for Visit Florida, a nonprofit that serves as the state’s public-private tourism marketing arm. It would give the organization an estimated $80 million dedicated revenue stream.
Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, said he wants to provide a dedicated revenue stream to Visit Florida because tourism is a vital component of the state's overall economy.
Visit Florida is a so-called direct support organization of the Department of Economic Opportunity, which is Gov. Rick Scott’s top jobs agency. Direct support organizations are nonprofits established to carry out specific public tasks, in this case publicizing state tourism.
Some members of the tax committee raised questions about the proposal, which is in its infancy. There was support for funding Visit Florida, but concern about using the tourist development tax as the dedicated revenue stream.
State Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Mount Dora Republican, said she though the tourist tax system is working efficiently.
“If it is not broke, I don’t necessarily know if we need to fix it,” she said during last Thursday's committee meeting. “I do think that funding Visit Florida is very important.”
Under current law, the organization has to lobby the Legislature each year for funding because it does not have a dedicated source of revenue. Last year, as the House and Senate fought over the budget, lawmakers who oversaw the state’s economic development budget grew concerned Visit Florida funding would get caught in the cross-fire.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where Visit Florida could become a budget casualty,” Gaetz said during Thursday's meeting.
Members asked about a draft version of Gaetz's plan, which has not yet been filed as formal legislation.
Another concern came from state Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican whose Central Florida seat is in a three-county area heavily reliant on tourism, including Disney, one of the biggest players in state government. He said the region pumps out a large share of state tourism taxes, so he wants to make sure that, as part of any changes, the region would not lose revenue.
“I would be interested in working on a fairness concept since it seems an overwhelming burden … would come from that three-county area,” he said.
Gaetz said that because Orlando's theme parks are such an attraction, tourism marketing from anywhere in the state will bring more people to Broeduer’s region.
“There is an algorithm somewhere at Universal or Disney showing that the brand of Florida has become so synonymous with the attractions in Central Florida,” Gaetz said. “It’s a win win.”
Along with sending tourism dollars to Visit Florida, Gaetz's proposal would also require that 40 percent of local tourism tax dollars be spent on marketing local tourism. He said some local tourism development councils, which are set up to oversee the spending of tourism dollars, are using just one-third of their budgets on marketing, a big part of their mission.
The proposal also includes language requested by Larry Ashley, the sheriff of Gaetz’s home county of Okaloosa. It would allow counties the option to divert 10 percent of local tourism tax dollars to law enforcement, which under current law is not allowed.
Gaetz said the money would be used to bolster police forces in towns that see a large influx of tourists.
“In the little town of Destin, there are about 50,000 people, but 4 or 5 million people stay there each year,” Gaetz said of the beachside town in his district.
The Florida Sheriffs Association has not yet taken a position on the bill.
“Normally, I would just say yes we support this bill, but our legislative committee has not reviewed this proposal,” Matt Dunagan, the association's deputy executive director, wrote in an email. “We will take a look in two weeks when we meet again."
He said “this is an issue for Sheriff Ashley,” who did not return requests for comment.
Gaetz said he has called the organization, but admitted during the committee hearing that he might need a cooling off period before starting talks with group about his plan. The association had high profile opposition this week to separate gun bills Gaetz is sponsoring.
“This was not the best week in my relationship with the Florida Sheriffs Association,” he joked, getting laughter from the entire committee room. “So maybe next week will be better.”
His proposal also tightens controls on local tourist development councils, which are created by county commissions that levy the tourist tax to coordinate local marketing efforts. Under those changes, contracts would have to be signed with people or organizations that receive tourism tax dollars for projects, and tourism industry groups like the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association could sue local councils if money is misused. Current law does not have provisions allowing industry groups to legally go after local councils.
Okaloosa Tourism Development Council officials were caught misusing funds in 2012, including the former director who died of an apparent drug overdose after being accused of misusing $747,000 from the BP oil spill.
The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, a tourism industry trade group, would also be given authority to appoint six of the nine board members that oversee local tourism councils. The remaining members will be elected officials selected by the county commission, which picks all board members under current law.

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