SATER: Doubling down on tourism, not cutting it
JEFFERSON CITY — Senator David Sater, R-Cassville, sent a letter to Gov. Eric Greitens this week emphasizing the importance of tourism to Missouri’s economy and urging the governor to reverse recent cuts to the tourism budget.
“Tourism is one of the economic engines of our state,” Sen. Sater said. “It employs over 300,000 people in Missouri and generates far more revenue than we spend on it. We should be doubling down on tourism, not cutting it.”
Late last month, the governor announced budget withholds of $251 million – $10 million of that came from the Missouri Division of Tourism. This is a 50 percent cut to the Missouri General Assembly’s approved budget of $20 million for tourism. The Missouri Division of Tourism promotes the growth of Missouri’s travel industry and vacation opportunities through a paid advertising program and in cooperation with Missouri’s many chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus.
Senator Sater’s district includes the Branson Lakes area, which TripAdvisor recently named the 17th most popular destination to visit in the U.S.
“I know the governor has a difficult job with the budget when revenues don’t come in line with expenses. That’s a challenge for us in the Legislature when crafting the budget every year.” Sen. Sater said. “But cutting tourism is not the way to balance the books. It will cost a lot more than we’ll save, and in the midst of the summer tourism season, this will have a sobering effect on hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses and their employees. I am eager to work with the governor to find a solution and, hopefully, restore this funding so our small-business owners in the Branson Lakes area and all over the state can do their job and grow our state economy.”
“Dear Governor Greitens,
Recently your office announced expenditure restrictions in the state budget totaling $251 million. Approximately $10 million of the restrictions included funding appropriated by the General Assembly for the Missouri Division of Tourism.
As you are likely aware, the tourism budget experienced devastating cuts through the recession, losing nearly half of its appropriation and falling far below the funding level called for under Missouri’s tourism funding formula. After years of cuts and corresponding decreases in visitors and tourism revenue, many of my colleagues and I in the General Assembly worked diligently to educate and inform members in the Senate and the House and from both sides of the aisle of the tremendous benefits of tourism to our state’s economy. Tourism is the second-largest industry in Missouri with a total economic impact of $16.5 billion. Over 41 million people visited Missouri last year and they spent over $13 billion. Tourism is also one of the few budget items that returns a lot more in revenue than we spend on it. Every state tax dollar spent on tourism creates a $3-4 return on investment and our visitor expenditure return on investment is $92 for every dollar spent. That figure is significant as more than 50 percent of all tourism revenues in Missouri come from outside our state. For a small investment in tourism, we get back so much more.
Our efforts to educate legislators and the public eventually bore fruit. Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the House Budget Committee, and members from both sides of the aisle across Missouri made a commitment to funding tourism at pre-recession levels and Missouri’s economy and the over 300,000 Missourians who work in a tourism-related business reaped the benefits. Many of the figures I mentioned above were all-time records for Missouri. It’s no coincidence that when we make tourism a priority in the budget, visitors make Missouri a priority destination.
One of our common interests and efforts during the recent legislative session was to improve and grow Missouri’s economy and signal to the rest of the country that Missouri is open for business. Inferred in this message is that Missouri is competing with other states for jobs, employers, and the economic growth that comes with them. We know to gain a competitive edge Missouri needs to adopt policies and a philosophy that make it easier for small business owners and employers to grow and prosper. The same applies for tourism. We are competing with other states and if we don’t do everything in our power to attract visitors and vacationers to our state, they will go elsewhere and take their wallets and purses with them. We should not be cutting one of the few parts of our budget that returns our investment at least four-fold. We should be doubling down on tourism.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I understand that revenues don’t always match expectations and that a balanced budget is not just prudent and responsible, it’s our constitutional duty. Your job to ensure the budget is balanced after the Legislature completes its work is a difficult one and I commend your dedication to fiscal responsibility. With this in mind, I stand ready to work with you on finding ways we can restore the $10 million for the Missouri Division of Tourism and continuing our investment in tourism in the years to come. I stand ready to discuss any budget matter on any topic. I agree that we cannot and will not raise taxes to balance the budget and that free market principles are the best answer to our budget woes. Let’s work together and build a better Missouri.
Senator, District 29