A bill to spend $6 million in emergency funds to market Alaska to travelers wary of terrorists passed the state House on Monday but faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.
Senate President Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican, said today the bill has some support among his colleagues but also faces significant opposition.
"I think there's some people who won't support the tourism money unless there's something done in the fisheries area as well," said Halford, referring to a failed effort in the House to include marketing money for the troubled salmon industry.
The measure as written would appropriate $6 million to the Alaska Travel Industry Association for a media blitz to head off an expected drop in tourists following the September terrorist attacks.
Even with the money, tourist numbers may drop by 10 percent this year, said Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican who urged lawmakers to support the fast-track bill during floor debate Monday. The fallout may be much greater if the state fails to approve the extra marketing dollars, he said.
"This is an emergency situation. The tourism industry didn't create the terror that was wrought on our country on Sept. 11, however they are bearing the brunt of it," said Mulder, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.
"We're talking about hundreds and hundreds in lost jobs just with a 10 percent decline."
The measure, House Bill 359, passed 25-10 over objections of some lawmakers who said the state cannot afford it. Some opponents said the Legislature should not sanction increased spending when it's facing a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall this year and larger deficits in succeeding years.
"I just cannot see going forward and handing out money without having a fiscal plan and a revenue stream to support that," Rep. Ken Lancaster, a Soldotna Republican who serves on the House Finance Committee.
Rep. Scott Ogan, a Palmer Republican, put it this way.
"This is the time of year everybody's backbone turns into a wishbone," said Ogan, who argued the Legislature is not financially responsible for the industry's misfortunes.
Rep. Lesil McGuire argued in favor of the bill, saying the state will pay a price later if tourism jobs are lost. Tourism accounts for roughly 20,300 jobs in Alaska, including 10,800 jobs in Anchorage and 4,000 in Southeast, according to state data.
"Where are these people going to go? They're going to go on unemployment and we as a state are going to pay for it," said McGuire, an Anchorage Republican.
The Alaska Travel Industry Association had sought $12.5 million for its marketing campaign, but a representative of the group said she was pleased with the $6 million approved by the House.
"This was a very, very important step to take and will make a significant difference in this next year and subsequent years in our economy," said Susan Bell, president of the group's Juneau chapter.
The association would use the money for television commercials and a direct mail campaign, she said, noting even with the extra funds tourist numbers may drop 10 percent to 25 percent. The numbers could decline 40 percent to 50 percent without the money, she estimated.
Juneau Republican Rep. Bill Hudson pushed an amendment to reduce the amount to $4.7 million and to fund the campaign using dollars earmarked for the association in next year's budget. The amendment failed 28 to 7.
Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula of Juneau pitched an amendment to bump the amount to $10 million a proposal supported by Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat. Kerttula also tried to appropriate $12 million to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute over five years to market salmon. Her amendment failed 23 to 9.
Kerttula and Hudson voted in favor of the bill, which was opposed by nine Republicans and one Democrat. It now goes to the Senate. The Senate Finance Committee filed a bill to spend $9 million on the tourism effort, but Halford, the Senate president, said he doubted the votes were there to fund that amount.
Kathy Dye can be reached at email@example.com.
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