Saturday, January 18, 2003
Steamboat Springs We applaud Gov. Bill Owens' call for a $10 million increase in tourism spending and urge the Legislature to support him.
Owens made his pitch for the increase during his State of the State address Thursday. He noted that while the state faces an $850 million deficit, there are areas of spending that cannot afford cuts, and tourism funding is one of them.
"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."
Few investments are as key to Colorado communities such as Steamboat Springs as tourism. Those who argue that we should be decreasing such marketing efforts are kidding themselves. Steamboat's economy -- and a big chunk of the state's economy -- are tied to tourism, and one of the best ways out of the doldrums we have experienced the past two years is to market our way out.
State tourism spending has been on the decline for nearly a decade, and revenues from tourism are flat. Drought, wildfires and Sept. 11 have only served to make matters worse. The $5.7 million the state currently spends on marketing isn't enough. A state that has as many amenities as Colorado should not rank 29th in tourism spending.
If Owens plan wins approval, the state will spend nearly $16 million on tourism, a record amount.
Northwest Colorado legislators understand the importance of tourism. Sen. Jack Taylor and Rep. Al White rightfully applauded the governor's call to triple marketing funds. Noting the governor's plan is for only one year, both legislators have offered plans that would provide long-term tourism funding.
Taylor wants to add video lottery terminals at the state's six dog and horse racetracks, something the Steamboat Republican said will provide $22 million per year for tourism.
White would slash the amount of sales tax revenue business owners keep for processing the tax. His plan would generate about $18 million for tourism.
We're not sold yet on either plan. Is increased gambling really the best way to raise more tourism dollars? And is now really the time to be cutting into the margins for small business owners? Those are questions the Legislature -- and in the case of Taylor's plan, perhaps the voters -- will have to answer. Still, Taylor and White deserve credit for trying to offer long-term solutions for tourism funding.
"We need to continue these efforts," White said in reference to the governor's call for more tourism funding. "I'm glad to see more for this year, but you need to get out in the market and repeat your message."
Tourists can help the state dig out of its financial hole, but the state must spend more to bring them here. Clearly, the governor and our Northwest Colorado legislators understand that concept. Let's hope their fellow lawmakers do as well.