Tourism & Cruises

Miami’s tourism marketing is spared by Legislature in final version of tax cut bill

After a standoff over the Miami-Dade tourism tax brought the House and Senate to a standstill on the final night of the session, the marketing arm of the county’s hospitality industry was spared.

The Senate prevailed late Friday in a plan to allow the county’s tourism bureau to continue to claim about $25 million a year in hotel taxes and included the measure in a tax-cut bill, rejecting a House plan to allow the money to pay for flood-control projects, pollution protections, seaweed cleanup and other expenses tied to water quality.

The tax package passed 36-2, with only Sens. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, and Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, voting against it.

The major tax-cut bill once had the Miami-Dade County hospitality industry fearful that the language would fundamentally change the county’s 35-year-old marketing arm and inflict a major hit on the cornerstone of South Florida’s economy.

Tourism leaders once called the bill a threat to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau’s survival because the county dollars account for 80% of the organization’s $32 million annual budget.

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HB 7097 — sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah — began as a wide-ranging $193 million proposal, touching sales tax holidays, tax breaks to rental car companies and tax rates on surplus lines insurance premiums. But in the face of massive fiscal uncertainty because of the coronavirus epidemic, lawmakers scaled it back to just under $48 million on Friday, took out the corporate tax breaks and the provision targeting the taxes raised by Miami-Dade’s tourism arm.

In Miami-Dade County specifically, the bill originally restructured the authorized uses of tourism-related taxes by adding parks and trails, and water-quality improvement to the list of projects that could be financed from the tax.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores successfully carried an amendment during a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday to ensure officials in her county would still have to use tourism tax dollars solely for marketing efforts.

“The Senate sent a strong message in Appropriations when we unanimously took that portion out,” she said Friday night. “It’s just not the right time to be upending the tourism marketing industry.”

She noted that given the coronavirus’ negative impact on tourism, the industry could use the marketing funds more now than ever.

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“I think we are living in very unprecedented times, and so I think the Senate thought it was just not the right time to deal with it,” Flores said.

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