Tourism cuts irk Jackson
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: January 8, 2013
Gov. Matt Mead’s proposal to cut about $1 million from the state tourism budget is raising some eyebrows around Jackson.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jeff Golightly started trying Monday to rally opposition to the proposed cuts, which will be taken up by state lawmakers in the general legislative session that begins today.
More than $500,000 of the money would be taken from an advertising program that lets small business piggyback on advertisements paid for by the state. Through the program, businesses can buy ad space on inserts and pamphlets that promote Wyoming.
“It’s truly an entity that’s self-sustaining,” Golightly said Monday, referring to the state’s tourism department. “The idea of pulling money out of that budget doesn’t make sense.”
Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson, also said she plans to fight the cut. She supported the proposal when it was first discussed, but said better-than-expected state revenue changed her mind.
“Now that revenue is higher, there are all kinds of proposals to raise spending in other areas, even though we’re still de-creasing in other areas,” she said. “In that context, I absolutely oppose cutting the tourism budget.”
Golightly and Petroff said that spending on tourism-related marketing and advertising brings money back to the state.
“Why would we be cutting something that has a proven track record?” Petroff said.
Lawmakers are slated to discuss $60 million in budget cuts proposed by the governor. Even though state revenue is higher than anticipated, analysts have said lawmakers should prepare for years of flat revenue.
Besides Mead’s budget proposal, which he presented last month, area lawmakers arrive at this year’s legislative session with bills that could legalize hitchhiking in the state, create new incentives for compressed natural gas projects and allow agencies to charge people for the cost of rescues.
They’ll hash out other bills related to a potential hike in the state’s fuel tax, discuss how to handle federal health care reform and talk about school accountability.
Legislators are scheduled to convene at noon today for the 62nd legislative session.
It will be the first session for Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna. Halverson beat out independent candidate Bill Winney in the 2012 election to represent House District 22.
This year’s legislature will be a general session, which means lawmakers likely will focus more on general bills, as opposed to the budget.
Bills don’t require as much approval during a general session. In years when legislators have to hash out the state’s biennial budget, bills that aren’t related to that work must be approved by two-thirds of the House or Senate to even be introduced on the floor.
General sessions last longer than the legislature’s budget session — typically 38 days, as opposed to 20.
Mead is slated to deliver his annual State of the State address at 10 a.m. Wednesday. His remarks will be streamed live at Governor.wy.gov.
A full list of all proposed bills and live streaming of the session is available at Legisweb.state.wy.us. People also can comment on pending bills at that website.