Panel OKs funds to market tourism

Opposition claims discrimination among industries

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2002

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved $6 million for emergency tourism marketing, but with some strings and budget sleight of hand.

The House earlier approved $6 million from the state general fund for the Alaska Travel Industry Association to launch a media campaign aimed at offsetting consumer jitters about traveling post-Sept. 11. That appropriation would add to the state's fiscal gap by lowering the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

The Senate Republican majority, which has staked out a more conservative fiscal posture, proposed to pay for the marketing program mostly by raiding an endowment used to fund the state's international trade efforts.

And they would require ATIA to match the balance dollar for dollar, possibly to forego some of their scheduled state appropriation for next year and to propose a new nonstate revenue source for the annual marketing program.

The committee passed the bill 5-1. Republican Sen. Alan Austerman of Kodiak objected to the new spending because there's no concurrent action on a long-range fiscal plan.

"The impression I get from this Senate body is they're not ready to address that issue today," he told the committee.

"We're making some progress," said Finance Co-Chairman Dave Donley, who has proposed a state spending cap and other measures for budgetary restraint. Using the trade endowment "helps make a statement" that the Legislature won't widen the fiscal gap to match every funding request, Donley said.

Austerman said $2 million of the proposed funding should go to salmon marketing as a matter of equity. But he said afterward that he would have voted against the bill even with that change. Sen. Gary Wilken, a Fairbanks Republican, said there would be other opportunities to help the salmon industry.

Tina Lindgren of ATIA said she welcomed the committee's passage of the bill.

As for the required dollar-for-dollar match of $828,500, she said it shouldn't be a problem. The current marketing program requires the private association to come up with 30 percent of the state's $6.9 million marketing budget, or about $2.07 million. ATIA estimates it will raise $3.2 million, more than enough to cover the extra effort required in the bill, Lindgren said.

The source of $5.17 million of the money was troublesome to some.

The trade endowment generates about $500,000 a year, which is one-quarter of the state's $2 million annual budget for maintaining trade offices in Asia and financing the governor's trade missions, said Jeff Bush, deputy commissioner of the Department of Community and Economic Development. Among the activities of the trade program is matching buyers and sellers of Alaska seafood.

For now, with no cuts in the trade budget, Bush said he's assuming those funds will be made up from other sources.

But if the Legislature followed through with an actual 25 percent cut, "I think it would cripple our trade," he said. "We're down to the minimum we can survive on."

Lindgren said that she doesn't think emergency marketing funds for tourism make the case for a cruise ship head tax. Any such tax would have to be part of an overall strategy for getting contributions from the visitor industry as part of a long-range fiscal plan, she said.

Meanwhile, some legislators expressed anger over ATIA's lobbying tactics, including a newspaper advertisement that suggested failure to approve emergency marketing would be letting terrorists "win."

"As a Vietnam veteran, I can tell you these people don't understand the word terror," Juneau Democratic Sen. Kim Elton said on the Senate floor Tuesday. Although Elton has supported twice the level of marketing funds that the Senate panel has approved, he said the money should go to "a contrite and apologetic ATIA" only.

Lindgren said she had heard only one complaint about the ad.

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