Tourism funding gets cold shoulder from lawmakers

Industry leaders ask Alaska Legislature for $18 million from state

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2007

Alaska's tourism industry needs more money, its members say, but they're having a tough time finding it in the Legislature.

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Making a final push to get included in the state budget, under review in the Senate Finance Committee this week, industry representatives told the committee they expected to need more money this year.

Due to passage of a voter initiative raising costs for the cruise ship industry, the Alaska Travel Industry Association expects to get less marketing money from the industry, said Dave Worrell, the group's marketing manager.

"We don't expect to receive the funding we used to receive," he said.

The industry has asked the Legislature for $18 million from the state's general fund and $8.5 million from the vehicle rental tax. It also has asked for the industry's share of matching funds to be dropped from 50 percent to 10 percent.

In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, Worrell likened the matching money to state funds the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute gets to pitch Alaska salmon and other products.

Finance committee member Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, objected to the comparison.

"I can tell you right now for every dollar that the (seafood) industry puts into marketing, they are getting 18 cents. For every dollar the (tourism) industry puts into marketing, they're getting nine dollars" under the industry's proposal, Elton said.

Elton is the retired executive director of the seafood marketing institute.

Elton seemed skeptical of the industry's proposal in a year of tight budgets.

"You'll be putting in less and getting more," he said. "I don't see it as an equal effort."

The industry had earlier proposed a bill to increase its funding, which was heard in the State Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, where Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, was skeptical as well.

"I thought it was asking for a lot," she said of the request for the 90-10 state match.

"Which is not to say I don't support the tourism industry," she said.

In fact, she said more people should visit Alaska.

"It is a fabulous place," she said. "They all should be coming."

Doll said she didn't know if the cruise ship industry would withhold its marketing contributions or not. If the state picked up the cost, however, that might be more likely.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected soon to take up amendments to the budget, in which the requested money could be added.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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