New legislation to double tourism funding
The state Legislature approved a bill Wednesday afternoon that will add an additional $3.4 million to the state’s tourism budget next year – and even more in years to come.
With hours until the legislative session ended, the House approved Senate Bill 256 and sent it to the Senate. The Senate approved it that afternoon; it now heads to the governor for his signature.
“Tourism is a vital part of the state’s economic health, unfortunately, sometimes it’s not enough to have the most beautiful state in the nation as a calling card – you need some help,” state treasurer Mike Coffman said. “This proposal will provide a vital funding source to promote tourism without using a dime of taxpayer dollars.”
SB 256, sponsored by Sen. Jack Taylor, whose district includes Eagle County, and Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, allows the state to sell lost or forgotten assets in the state’s Unclaimed Property Program. Those assets include such things as brokerage and mutual fund accounts.
Usually, the state holds those items until they can be claimed by their rightful owners or heirs. Other items, such as those found in forgotten safe deposit boxes, are sold on e-Bay. The state gets about 2,000 of those each year, said Coffman’s spokesman Brian Anderson.
State legislators have been working for years to re-establish a funding mechanism to promote tourism. Voters in 1993 eliminated the .2 percent tourism tax. The next step will be to establish a trust account and consolidate and sell the assets.
The proceeds will go into the new Unclaimed Property Tourism Trust Fund. Coffman said he believes the assets could garner up to $80 million that will be put in a trust fund. Interest earned from that will go to the tourism office.
In the first year, Coffman expects to add roughly $3.4 million to the tourism office’s advertising budget, with that amount growing to more than $5 million annually within 15 years. Coffman plans to continue building the principle in the trust by using the unclaimed portion of the equities turned over to the Great Colorado Payback annually – roughly $2.5 million in an average year.
“Those of us in the industry are ecstatic about anything that provides a more permanent source of funding and is a supplement to existing funding,” tourism board chairman Steve Szapor said. “It’s a nice step.”
The new funds should increase last year’s tourism budget by about 120 percent.
Next year’s tourism budget is tentatively set at $5.4 million, tourism office spokeswoman Stephanie Dalga said.
Coffman decided to present the idea after consulting with investment professionals. Coffman decided it’s the state’s responsibility – much as it is with a private financial manager – to sell the assets to preserve their value without exposing the owner to the risk of losing the objects’ values.
After the assets are sold, the owner or heir has an indefinite amount of time to claim the cash value.