Local reps applaud governor

Legislators agree with marketing tourism

— Routt County's representatives in the Colorado Legislature think Gov. Bill Owens' proposal to pump $10 million into marketing Colorado tourism is money well spent.

Tourism promotion is part of a $19 million economic stimulus package Owens presented during his State of the State address Thursday.

"It clearly has been demonstrated in the past that money spent to promote tourism comes back to the state," Sen. Jack Taylor said.

The Steamboat Springs Republican said it makes sense to invest a little to get a lot. Studies show that every dollar spent on promoting tourism nets a 50:1 return, he said.

"That's a half-a-billion shot in the arm for the economy," Taylor said, adding that revenue from sales and income tax filters down to local government, he said.

Assistant House Majority Leader Al White was enthusiastic about Owens' plan to bolster state marketing funding.

"I'm tickled to death," he said.

White, a Republican from Winter Park, is proposing legislation that would generate new annual tourism promotion dollars by reducing fees the state pays retailers for collecting sales tax.

"It dovetails nicely with my bill," he said.

Owens' plan would fund tourism promotion for one year. The health of Colorado's tourism industry, however, demands consistent funding to effectively lure potential visitors, White said. He would like to see his bill succeed, and other revenue sources identified, to ensure future dollars for tourism promotion.

"We need to continue these efforts," White said. "I'm glad to see (funding) for this year, but you need to get out in the market and repeat your message."

Owens' economic stimulus package also includes $7 million to bring new companies to the state and create new jobs and $2 million to promote Colorado agricultural products.

"Economic development is what this state needs," White said. "It's wonderful that the governor is taking a proactive approach."

Owens acknowledged the dilemma lawmakers face in trying to solve one of the worst budget crises in years. He encouraged the Colorado General Assembly to embrace the situation, not as a crisis but as a challenge to overcome.

"The people of Colorado expect us, as leaders, to deal with this challenge," Owens said. "While we are tightening our belts, we are not abandoning our key investments."

Colorado's elected leaders in Denver may find their hands tied as they grapple with an $850 million deficit and still try to meet the needs of the state, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

"They don't have any revenue-raising potential," Monger said. "They don't have any ability to raise money to solve problems."

Owens also called for increased water conservation efforts and affordable health and auto insurance in his Thursday speech.

Individuals and employers should have flexibility in choosing health-care plans to best suit their needs, Taylor said.

"We need to get rid of some of the mandates," he said.

Owens proposed rehabilitation of existing water storage facilities and a statewide initiative to assess major water users in Colorado and their future water needs.

Northwest Colorado is working to enhance water storage capabilities through the Elkhead Reservoir expansion, Taylor said.

"I was very pleased with the governor's message," White said.

Lawmakers are in a challenging situation, he said, but one they can meet.

"We'll have to suck it up and figure out a way to get these other things done," Taylor said. "We'll just have to intelligently manage our way out of this."

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