TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — What started out as a disagreement over taxpayers footing the bill for a version of Pitbull’s “Sexy Beaches” video is now turning into a full-blown public relations war between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-controlled Florida House.
The two sides are at odds over whether Florida should spend money on tourism marketing and luring businesses to the state. In the past week, their feud has continued to escalate. The House is currently moving a bill that would shutter the two agencies that receive millions to pay for these efforts.
Scott in the last few days has barnstormed the state where he has called out GOP House members by name for supporting the legislative proposal. On Thursday, he also announced that the Sunshine State attracted a record number of nearly 113 million tourists last year despite two hurricanes, the outbreak of the Zika virus and the Pulse nightclub attack.
“I don’t understand how anyone can look at Florida’s booming tourism industry, and the more than 1.4 million jobs it supports, and vote to kill it,” said Scott in a statement. “The legislation the Florida House is pushing puts more than 1.4 million jobs at risk and we cannot let that happen.”
Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work in the last few days has also paid for phone calls telling voters in a handful of GOP districts that their legislator was in favor of a bill that would “destroy our economy and lead to higher taxes.”
The Florida House has responded by releasing a scathing new video to YouTube that trashes Visit Florida, the agency that promotes tourism, and Enterprise Florida, the economic development organization that uses taxpayer money to offer incentives to companies that move to the state or expand their operations.
The video mentions the secret $1 million deal Visit Florida signed with rap star Pitbull which included him filming a new video of his “Sexy Beaches” song that included footage of Florida hotels and beaches. The House video also criticizes several economic development deals that went bust included the high-profile bankruptcy of Digital Domain, a visual effects studio that received $20 million of support. The Digital Domain deal was approved before Scott become governor.
The video includes captions that say “no more foolish spending,” “no more handouts” and “no more corruption.”
GOP House members first saw the video Wednesday night during a closed meeting at a Tallahassee restaurant. House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues initially said the meeting would be strictly social and that no policy would be discussed.
Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, defended the meeting. He said it did not violate state laws that block legislators from meeting privately to discuss pending legislation. The private meeting was paid for the Republican Party of Florida. Over the last two years Scott has refused to raise money for the party.
The dispute over money for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida threatens to derail this year’s legislative session, which starts in March. Top Senate Republicans say they oppose House GOP efforts to eliminate the programs. Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and Senate budget chief, said Thursday on Twitter that the “investment in Visit Florida is obviously working. No time to take our foot off the gas now.”