Legislature OKs $10 million for tourism | SummitDaily.com

Legislature OKs $10 million for tourism

BRECKENRIDGE – Amid all the cuts legislators plan to make to the state budget this week, tourism is coming out ahead, with a $10 million shot in the arm that was supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Senate Bill 202 cleared the House early Monday afternoon and awaits Gov. Owens signature. Legislators expect him to sign it Wednesday. The bill is part of a $19 million economic stimulus package designed to help agriculture and the Office of Economic Development and to promote tourism.

Sponsored by Sen. Dave Owen, R-Greeley, and Rep. Brad Young, R-Lamar, the bill allocates an additional $10 million – on top of the $5.5 million already allocated this year – to market Colorado. The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) will receive the bulk of the funds. Officials there did not return phone calls Monday, Presidents Day.

The money represents almost a tripling of the funds the state spent last year – and a sixfold increase in the amount it spent in 1992. That year, voters declined to continue a .02 percent sales tax on tourism-related businesses that provided $12 million a year to encourage people to visit Colorado.

The CTO likely will use the funds to promote the coming summer months through national television and print campaigns. Additionally, tourism officials might improve welcome centers, urge Coloradans to visit places in their own state and provide money for matching grants.

“I think tourism is an investment,” said Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville, who represents Summit County and who voted for the bill. “It’s quick recovery – if we put the money out there, we can generate revenue pretty quickly. We really need it. Hopefully, it’ll get committed immediately so we can start doing something.”

Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, said she wants to see how the money will be spent.

“We’re nickeling and diming every program in the state,” she said. “I’m hoping the right things are done that really improve our economic outlook. We really need to be doing this. You need to constantly market the state to people to get them to call an airline and book a room. And it’s critical to the state as a whole because of how the dollars are redistributed.”

Economists estimate that every dollar spent promoting tourism generates $50 in tourism spending and $2.75 in new state and local taxes.

Using that formula, a $10 million allocation for the tourism industry could produce about $500 million in new tourism spending, generate $27.5 million in new tax dollars and create 7,800 new tourism-industry jobs.

That’s great news to local resort officials, who are happy legislators decided to address the issue earlier rather than later. If funds are appropriated this spring, tourism officials can begin marketing for the 2003 summer.

“As a restaurant guy and member of the (Summit County Restaurant Association) board, I think it’s good news,” said Bobby Starekow. “We probably shouldn’t have lost that funding years ago, and when we did, there was a direct correlation in the drop in destination days. I couldn’t be happier to use this money before the summer season is upon us.”

Miller said what little opposition the bill met was from Front Range legislators.

“They don’t see the benefits,” Starekow said. “The should have this year, because the economy was down in Denver, and a lot of that was attributed to the tourism economy. We’re delighted we got it.”

Corry Mihm, executive director of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber, said it’s a bright spot – especially after the bad press Colorado got last summer when wildfires raged through the forests and rafting companies suffered because of low water levels.

“It’s one positive note out there,” Mihm said. “It’s terrific – fantastic. The opportunity to be able to impact this summer’s and next winter’s tourism seasons is critical. It’s so important to get positive messages out on Colorado. There’s so much to do, so much going on.”

Like others, she praises the legislators’ foresight.

“It’s a critical symbol of investing in the future, rather than retrenching,” she said.

Budget discussions continue this week, with legislators facing more than 100 bills, Miller said. Additionally, the House and Senate will meet in a joint session Monday – something Miller has never seen in the seven years he’s been in office – to approve next fiscal year’s budget. That budget is already $870 million in the red.

This fiscal year ends June 30, and legislators have to find $850 million to fill a deficit.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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