EDWARDS - Former state Sen. Al White told a group of about 20 locals Saturday morning that he's fighting for his shrinking budget of tourism dollars.
Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed White to the director position at the Colorado Tourism Office, and it's a role White feels comfortable in after years in the legislature, he said.
White was in Edwards with his wife, Jean White, who is now the state senator representing her husband's former district, and state Rep. Millie Hamner. They hosted an informal town hall discussion that focussed on everything from tourism to education to the economy.
Al White said Hickenlooper is trying to cut $2 million out of the state's tourism budget - a budget in which Al White already thinks is too small. The budget was about $20 million per year since about 2006 until the recession hit and the budget shrank by about $5 million.
Al White said the numbers don't lie and tourism is the most valuable source of revenue in the state.
"We get about $6 in state taxes for every $1 we invest, and we get about $6.25 in city and county taxes (for every dollar invested)," Al White said. "That's almost $13 in return for every dollar."
That's why Al White isn't backing down from Hickenlooper. He's going straight to the people who make the decisions on the budget - the state Legislature and, specifically, its joint budget committee.
"I'm telling them, 'Don't dispose my $2 million,'" Al White said. "I think I'm going to beat (Hickenlooper) on this."
Now's the time to be aggressive with tourism marketing because other states have backed off, leaving the perfect opportunity for Colorado to gain more market share, he said.
Kraige Kinney, the mayor pro tem of Eagle and a Vail firefighter, told Al White he liked the bottom-up approach that Hickenlooper is taking in terms of fixing the state's economy, and also said he hopes the rhetoric surrounding this economic makeover actually becomes action.
He told Al White he's happy to have him as the state's tourism director.
"In the past when you've said stuff, you've actually done stuff," Kinney said.
So what does Al White plan to do with the help of legislators like Hamner and Jean White? He said the first step is continuing to secure funding for tourism.
"It doesn't matter what kind of great products we have in this state tourism-wise because if we don't have dollars to tell our story, we don't have visitors coming to the state," Al White said.
It's also going to become increasingly important to diversify the state's tourism offerings. While the "old classics" like outdoor recreation and winter sports are great, an aging Baby Boomer population means the state has to offer more variety for those who might not want to sleep in tents anymore, Al White said.
"When I was 25 years old I thought sleeping under the stars was a lot cooler than I think it is now," Al White said. "We have to try to develop other possibilities."