Senate Panel Boosts Tourism Funding

Senate Panel Boosts Tourism Funding

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Senate panel on Tuesday approved Gov. Jon Huntsman's proposal for a tenfold increase in tourism promotion. Boosters say it will pay big economic dividends by drawing more visitors to Utah's recreational wonderlands.

Utah failed to capitalize on the 2002 Winter Olympics, keeping funding at about $1 million a year, said Dave Harmer, former head of the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

"We lost out," Harmer said. "Our studies have shown we've lost market share in tourism to other states around us."

Senate Bill 7 would create a self-financing system of tourism promotion after an investment of state tax dollars, said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.

His measure would provide $10 million for the campaign at first, an amount declining by $1 million annually until it disappears. By then, the state will skim $3 million a year from tax revenues that boosters say will grow exponentially, to keep up the campaign.

Jenkins said economists project that each dollar spent promoting Utah tourism will generate more than $8 in tax revenue, not just economic benefits -- a multiplier that had other senators questioning such a fantastic return.

Jenkins insisted that each dollar spent promoting tourism would return a "minimum" of $8.64 in sales tax and other tax revenue, and said the return might possibly double even that after two years. "It should be a slam dunk," he said.

His bill was endorsed by the Senate Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Standing Committee.

"Tourism has been sliding in this state," Jenkins told the committee. "We have high hopes that this will really help tourism in the state."

Under his promise, $10 million spent on tourism promotion will generate hundreds of millions in economic activity and boost tax revenue by more than $80 million annually once the campaign takes hold.

Twenty percent of the state funds will be shared with cities and counties for their own advertising and promotion campaigns, Jenkins said.

Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley City, said Utah ski resorts promised years ago that with a sales tax break on grooming equipment and electricity to run chair lifts, they could afford to promote their own industry.

Mayne questioned why the ski industry needed more state support, but nonetheless supported Jenkins' bill, saying the economic returns were tempting.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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