What Tourism Sees As A $7 M Cut, Nixon Calls A $2.5 M Reduction
"That's pretty creative accounting in my book," says one official.
"$4.5 Million Dollars in unpaid bills? C'mon," responds Cardetti
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Tourism officials say Gov. Nixon's administration's $7 million dollar cut to their budget is disproportionate and shows a lack of respect for an industry that's key to the state's economy.
Because of the ongoing recession, last week, Nixon announced how he'd slice an additional $60 million dollars from the budget.
Tourism was one of the largest culprits on his list.
The head of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau says the cut means that people outside the state will see less ads promoting Springfield, Branson and other Missouri cities.
"Obviously, we're going to have considerably less advertising. That will equate to less visitors to the state," said Tracy Kimberlin of the Visitors Bureau.
Fewer tourists means less of their money for businesses and in turn, less sales taxes to prop up local communities.
The cut tourism received is much larger than cuts to other economic development programs.
Of the $11 million dollars the Department of Economic Development was forced to cut, $7 million came from tourism. That's 64% of the total department's decrease.
"While it may have to forgo cuts like everyone else, I don't think disproportionate cuts to the tourism budget are wise," said Senate Appropriations Chair Gary Nodler. "In times of economic difficulty, it appears to be an easy target," Nodler said.
"It's very disproportionate. It's gutting the Division of Tourism's ad budget and that will eventually come back to haunt the state," said Kimberlin.
But Nixon's office disputes tourism's numbers. Spokesman Jack Cardetti points to a $4.5 million dollar balance the division had leftover at the end of the fiscal year. Cardetti said that money could be carried over.
"Because of the state's tight fiscal situation, our budget office has asked them to spend that balance this year. The net result is that tourism will experience a $2.5 million dollar cut, which is in line with the belt-tightening that is happening throughout the state," Cardetti said.
"The cut doesn’t substantially affect the Division of Tourism more than others because they can use their $4.5 million fund balance to off-set the cut," Cardetti added.
"That's pretty creative accounting, in my book," replied Kimberlin.
He said that $4.5 million dollar balance was already spent last spring, and compared it to charging something on a credit card and not yet getting the bill.
"It's not like that money was just sitting there waiting for a use. It was already spent," Kimberlin said.
A spokeswoman for the Division of Tourism concurred. "We didn't end with that amount. That $4.5 million was already designated for purchases made. We just hadn't received the billing," said tourism spokeswoman Sarah Luebbert.
To which Cardetti replied, "$4.5 million dollars of bills not paid? C'mon." "They're going to have $2.5 million less, which is about 10 percent."
With hotel occupancy in Springfield down five percent this year to date, Kimberlin worries that a lack of support from the state will make things even worse.
"I think a lot of people tend not to give tourism its due respect from the standpoint of economic development," said Kimberlin.