Colorado lawmakers salvage state tourism budget |

Colorado lawmakers salvage state tourism budget

Caddie Nath
Summit Daily News
Vail, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – Despite a multi-million dollar dip in revenue, lawmakers proposed a slight increase in the state’s tourism budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The bump would bring the budget up to more than $13 million.

An initial proposal from the state Joint Budget Committee will supplement the normal tourism budget with an additional $3.7 million. Without the extra cash, the gaming-tax funded tourism budget will fall to $9.6 million next year from just over $12 million this year and $20 million a few years ago.

“Tourism is such a huge share of our Western Slope economy,” said Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon). “It’s critical for us to continue to invest in it.”

Hamner said she urged members of the Joint Budget Committee not to cut the tourism budget before the proposal was finalized Friday.

The committee’s final recommendation for next year’s budget is now in the hands of the state Legislature as a whole.

Every cut to tourism spending is another hit to the state’s funding for marketing campaigns, which history shows are directly linked to Colorado’s share of the overnight tourism market nationwide, officials said.

“The problem is, we’re seeing our neighbors Wyoming and Utah increasing their marketing so it makes it more difficult for us to compete,” Colorado Tourism director Al White said following the joint budget committee’s recommendation. “I’m grateful for the monies we have and hope the Legislature will continue to look kindly at us for being a real engine for economic development.”

In the 2010-11 fiscal year, the Colorado Tourism Office had a $15.7 million budget, $10.5 million of which was dedicated to national marketing. Over the last two years, due to a glitch in one piece of legislation and falling gaming-tax revenues, which feed the tourism office, the budget has continued to drop.

With the recent budget reductions, White said he was forced to cut marketing spending to $8 million, putting Colorado well behind states like Michigan, which spends $35 million on marketing, Illinois ($50 million) and Hawaii ($70 million).

If the proposed $13 million tourism budget is approved, White says he will use all of the extra cash to increase Colorado’s marketing expenditures to $9.3 million.

Every dollar spent on marketing Colorado generates $7.60 in tourism revenue, White said.

The tourism budget was the last challenge tackled by the Joint Budget Committee Friday afternoon. Committee Chair Rep. Cheri Gerou warned that the $3.7 million in padding for the tourism budget was pulled from the state’s K-12 education budget. But Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) called the claim a partisan jab, saying the money was only temporarily placed in the education budget overnight between committee discussions.

“To say the tourism money is coming directly out of education is somebody’s political spin,” said Steadman, who made the motion to increase the tourism budget.

Hamner, former superintendent of the Summit School District, said the K-12 education budget picture is looking brighter next year.

“We’re hoping to be able to restore funding to K-12,” Hamner said.

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