Legislature moves forward in support of key industries

Empire editorial

Posted: Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Alaska tourism, the state's second largest economic engine, got a show of support from the state House on Monday with the approval of $6 million in emergency marketing money. The $6 million in funds is short of the amount needed to effectively compete with other tourism destination states.

Alaska is fortunate to have the cruise industry foot most of the bill for promoting Alaska to the outside world. But, every dollar of promotion money will count this year, as the competition for a smaller pool of visitors will be intense.

Hawaii may have been one of the first states to feel the impact of 9/11 on tourism and state government acted quickly to allocate promotional funds to improve the state's competitive positioning and mitigate the loss of tourism-based jobs.

Orlando/Disney World, Florida spent more than $2 million just on Super Bowl advertising.

Eldon Mulder, co-chair of the House Finance Committee, supported the measure by making a case for the wisdom of an emergency investment to offset the anticipated loss of bookings this coming summer of 30 percent or more. Mulder acknowledged that a drop of just 10 percent in tourism would mean $100 million less in spending in Alaska and the loss of hundreds of jobs.

The ripple effect of the loss of jobs, the fundamental building blocks of the state's economy, will ultimately come to bear on the state's ability to meet its obligations. Increased joblessness will put a great burden on the cost of Alaska's social programs.

The Legislature also made headway in supporting an appropriation to aid Alaska's biggest industry, oil, with the approval for $1 million to go into the war chest to fight for exploration in ANWR. A couple of well-intentioned but inappropriate riders interfered with the initial passage of the appropriation, but the legislation moved with solid support.

Thus, the two biggest industries so critical to Alaska's future hopes of solving its fiscal crisis have received important support in this issue-packed session.

A third vital industry, the state's commercial fishery, also needs deep support if it is to survive, as Sen. Ted Stevens pointed out in his address to the Legislature two weeks ago. Restoring the viability of this once vibrant part of the Alaska experience will take time and a great deal of energy and creativity. Hopefully, the state's decision makers will make progress on this key issue before the end of the session.

Don Smith



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