Slashing state tourism funds is shortsighted

Every state is competing for visitors and tourism dollars. Washington must promote itself, too.

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Tourism continues to play a significant role in the Walla Walla Valley's economy.

And we concede this commnity's dependence on tourism and the wine industry plays a significant role in our disappointment in the Legislature's decision to eliminate state funding for tourism and shut down its tourism agency.

The move is shortsighted - pennywise but pound foolish, as the old saying goes.

Promoting tourism, as in selling Washington state to potential visitors across the nation and around the world, more than pays for itself. Tourists boost tax revenue and keep people employed.

Visitors to Washington spent some $15.2 billion in 2010, according to state figures. Will visitors spend that much this year or next?

Every other state in the nation continues to promote tourism - about half of the states increasing their budgets - all trying to attract the same tourist dollars.

Washington state was looking at spending $2 million over the next year on tourism. The budget has been as much as $7 million a year.

The recession has forced lawmakers to rethink spending and reduce funding in many areas. In the coming two-year budget lawmakers faced a projected $5 billion revenue shortfall, which meant they had to trim that much from proposed spending.

Lawmakers did just that. The cuts were made in many areas, including higher education.

Ironically, the cutting was occurring to most areas of state government even though the state expects to take in $4 billion more in revenue over the next two years.

So where is all the extra money going? Well, most of it will go to pay for increased costs for medical and social programs, many of which are mandated.

The budget situation is rotten all the way around. Lawmakers were put in a position where, unfortunately, they (to us another old saying) couldn't see the forest through the trees.

It's difficult to believe lawmakers couldn't find $2 million or so a year out of a two-year budget of $32 billion.

Perhaps lawmakers simply had enough. They didn't feel it was worth keeping the tourism office running with bailing wire and patches. Lawmakers might have a point.

If Washington can't fund tourism promotion properly, why do it at all?

The only other state to gut its tourism program is Connecticut. It essentially eliminated its tourism budget for two years but maintained its staff - sort of like treading water until the recession was over.

This year Connecticut has restored funding, pumping $15 million into the program.

Randy Fiveash, Connecticut's tourism division director, said his state's tourism industry has been limping along and struggling to stay competitive.

"We know we lost market share," he said.

It sounds like an expensive lesson, one which Washington - and Walla Walla - can ill afford.

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