By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, reports the state is on pace for 88.5 million visitors, which is way down from the 131 million in 2019.

With an almost 50% drop off in tourism, tax revenues have been hammered.

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“Florida TaxWatch is surprised that the number have not been more severe,” said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

The state legislature meets in January. The question on lawmakers’ minds: where to cut budgets?

The governor has ordered state agencies to trim budgets by 8.5% with the tax base reeling.

Florida TaxWatch of course proposes the legislature trim budgets. But they also have proposals to seeking additional revenue streams to offset the COVID impact, such as collecting taxes on internet purchases.

“Amazon has a physical presence in Florida, but a lot of their resellers within the Amazon system do not.,” said Calabro. “If you would collect that, their estimate before COVID, would be about 700-800 million. We believe it could be a billion dollars the first year.”

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Florida state researchers say 69 of the top internet retailers fail to collect Florida taxes – a potential tax windfall.

“When you add to that a renegotiated Seminole contract for gaming, we could be looking at 800 million to a billion dollars there as well,” said Calabro.

Negotiating with the Seminoles is always tough.

There’s also the ongoing issue with movie making. Florida used to subsidize movie makers who shot their productions in South Florida.

“We believe we can bring a lot of economic growth, lots of jobs, good paying jobs, if we encourage a thoughtful and responsible film industry incentive program,” Calabro said.

The Florida motion picture and television industry was responsible for more than 150,000 jobs and $2.02 billion in wages. But that subsidy was allowed to sunset, and Florida movie making dried up.

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COVID has put lots on the budget and tax table. And remember, at the end of the day, increased taxes or new taxes are always passed on the consumer.