Tough time to ask for tourism funding

Sometimes politics trumps pragmatism. Such is the case with the push by the Connecticut Tourism Coalition to significantly increase state funding for tourism marketing and promotion.

Pragmatically speaking, it makes sense for Connecticut to invest more in promoting tourism. Many surrounding states are doing so. Getting more tourists visiting Connecticut bolsters the economy and boosts tax revenues.

But politically speaking, the timing couldn’t be worse.

The state budget is two months overdue. Still facing a $3.5 billion fiscal shortfall over the next two fiscal years, legislative leaders cannot find a budgetary formula that will attract enough votes to pass.

What is certain is that whatever ends up winning approval will impose hardships with cuts in spending for core services, reductions in municipal aid and some form of higher taxation. As Gov. Dannel P. Malloy tries to manage state spending without a budget, services for the developmentally disabled and support for local education are among the early casualties.

The coalition sees $22 million as a logical investment in tourism, not a huge number in a roughly $20 billion state budget. The coalition notes that after Malloy won election in 2010 he pushed to increase the hotel occupancy tax from 12 percent to 15 percent, using the revenue from the increase to promote tourism. That would provide a $22 million investment if utilized now.

But the legislature has raided some of that revenue, as it so often does. It invested $6.4 million in tourism marketing and promotion in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Malloy has recommended $8.3 million this fiscal year, but the legislature continues to dither.

Using executive authority, Malloy set aside $850,000 for tourism promotion during the autumn season.

Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said the coalition is right. Skillful marketing and promotion of tourism should generate tax revenues that more than offset the investment. But getting the votes is a political process and finding votes for boosting tourism aid when lawmakers are cutting other services is a tall order, he said.

The tourism coalition, formed in March 2016 and already with 140 members, can play a vital role in making the case for investing in tourism. It should persist. But obtaining its most ambitious goals may have to await the state establishing a firmer financial footing.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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