PALM BAY, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – State Representative Randy Fine (R-South Brevard County) today filed HB 585, which will amend the Tourist Development Tax statute to allow bed taxes to be spent on a wide array of capital projects necessary to facilitate tourism, including transportation, wastewater, solid waste, groundwater drainage, drinking water, and pedestrian facilities. The bill also makes clear that estuaries and lagoons are considered rivers and inland lakes for the purposes of existing authority. The bill is very similar to SB 658, filed by Senator Jeff Brandes on October 26th.
“So much of our infrastructure is failing and inadequately maintained, and many local politicians hide behind real – or made up — restrictions of the tourist development tax to fund special interest projects at the expense of Florida’s visitors and tourists,” said Fine. “With billions of dollars being collected from tourists to Florida, we should grant local governments the ‘home rule’ power to spend those dollars in the best manner to attract and facilitate tourists.”
Fine filed this bill in the aftermath of a scandal on the Brevard County Commission where, at the same time it was releasing 19 million gallons of raw sewage into the Indian River, four county commissioners voted to spend $14.4 million dollars on projects including a $7 million-dollar developer payment, $5 million in county soccer field improvements, $1.7 million to subsidize RV parks for snowbirds, and $500,000 for a museum open only once a week that charges $27 admission. The commissioners justified spending this money on these projects and not the Indian River – which they have previously stated has a $4 billion annual tourism impact – because the Indian River is not a river. River rehabilitation is expressly authorized under current tourist development law.
“Without a healthy Indian River Lagoon, we won’t have any tourism in Brevard County, and without a vibrant infrastructure, we won’t be able to handle our large and growing tourism industry. I spent fifteen years working on tourism-related issues, and I understand the importance of tourism marketing. But if we do not maintain our public tourism assets – in order to build white elephants that have little to nothing to do with tourism – we jeopardize this critical industry.”