PALM BAY, Fla. – Sunday, the Florida Legislature passed HB 7087, this year’s tax reform package, which included the provisions of HB 585, a bill sponsored by State Representative Randy Fine which expands the acceptable uses of the Tourist Development Tax. This legislation will allow Brevard County to spend up to an additional $50 million over the next six years on Indian River Lagoon repair and restoration.
“For twenty-three days in October last year, our county government illegally dumped nineteen million gallons of raw sewage into the Indian River Lagoon,” said Fine. “Yet at the same time they were destroying our most valuable tourism resource, they voted to spend $14.5 million tourism dollars on developer subsidies, special interest payouts, RV parks, and a pier within walking distance of the sewage spill. When I asked why they would prioritize pork barrel projects over ensuring our Indian River Lagoon was available for eco-tourism, I was told that the law would not allow them to.
“No more. With the passage of this legislation, preserving the Indian River Lagoon is now on par with all other Tourist Development Tax spending, including, for example, beach renourishment, which the Commission spends millions of our tourism dollars on each year.
“Saving the Indian River Lagoon is the greatest governmental challenge facing Brevard County today. The sewage spills have contributed to another brown algae bloom and all signs point to another massive fish kill on the horizon. With this new home rule power before them, the Legislature has now opened up a new potential $50 million revenue stream over the next six years for the County Commission to tackle the problem.
“I hope every Brevardian will join me in calling on our local County Commission to take advantage of this new legislation and reassess where we will get the greatest bang for our buck in spending tourism development taxes. The ball is now in their court.”
HB 7087 makes a number of changes to the Tourism Development Tax statute. First, it inserts the words “lagoon” and “estuary” among the current language in the statute regarding spending funds to restore inland lakes, rivers, and beaches. While many believed that lagoons and estuaries were already covered by existing statute, Brevard County has taken the position that because those words were not implicitly included, they were not. This makes it explicit.
HB 7087 also creates a new approved use for tourism tax dollars – infrastructure that will have a direct effect on tourism, including roads, sidewalks, bike paths, boardwalks, and any other capital project with a duration of five years or longer that will directly grow tourism. In order for local governments to engage in these projects, they will have to meet four hurdles: 1) the projects must be recommended by the local tourist development council, 2) the Commission must get a super-majority vote for the project, 3) the Commission must obtain an independent opinion letter that concludes that the project will, in fact, drive tourism, and 4) no more than 70% of the project cost can come from tourism tax dollars.