Budget cuts squeeze out orange juice samples at Florida welcome centers

Tourists no longer greeted by cups of juice due to budget cuts

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida’s welcome centers just got a whole lot less sweet with the news that fresh cups of orange juice will no longer be available to greet visitors who stop in upon entering the Sunshine State.

For decades, visitors have been greeted by free samples of orange and grapefruit juices, squeezed fresh from the fruit grown at Florida’s precious citrus groves. That all changed in July, when the funding from the Florida Department of Citrus stopped flowing.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the tradition began in 1949, when Florida first opened what was then called a “hospitality house” near Yulee in the northeast corner of the state.

The tradition continued -- at a cost, of course -- until 2015, when then-Gov. Rick Scott vetoed money to supply the free juice.

It wasn’t long after Scott’s decision that the Department of Citrus volunteered to pay for the juice in hopes of keeping the tradition alive. That decision came at a hefty price of $250,000 a year, according to the department.

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Recent cuts to the department’s budget have halted the tasty tradition.

According to the department, the FDOC budget was slashed from $18 million in 2018-19 to about $15 million in 2019-20. The department’s most recent contract to supply the juice at welcome centers came to an end on June 30, 2018.

Visit Florida, the agency in charge of operating the welcome centers, has also seen recent cuts to its budget, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Officials from both agencies told the newspaper they’ve received verbal and written complaints about the juice no longer being available at the welcome centers.

Juice hasn’t been served at the centers since the summer, but it wasn’t until the holiday travel season rolled around that people really began to notice its absence, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

An employee at one Florida welcome center told the newspaper she’s constantly asked about the juice.

“All day, every day,” T.J. Gilliam said.

And she said some aren’t so nice when they learn the juice is no longer being served.

It’s not just visitors who seem to be upset about the ending of the decadeslong tradition.

According to the Times, some residents are also having trouble accepting the news.

Wade Wagnon, a fifth-generation Floridian, wrote to Visit Florida, asking how a state with a budget of $91 billion couldn’t find room to keep a valuable tradition alive.

Officials from both agencies told the Times they have not heard of any plans to bring back the free juice.

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