State redirects funds to promote statewide tourism

October 19 2010 | Latest News
Money is cut from Sugar Bowl and Essence to help state tourism...

October 19, 2010

By Ed Anderson

Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- A state board voted unanimously Monday to reinstate more than $5.2 million for state tourism promotion, while deleting the same amount that has been directed to programs such as the Sugar Bowl and the Essence Music Festival for the past two years.

The action by the Louisiana Tourism Promotion District, the agency that oversees how a special tourism tax is spent, is only the first step of a long bureaucratic budget process. The budget must now be submitted by the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism to the governor's office for use in assembling the state budget. The governor's budget will then be submitted to the Legislature for debate at the April session.

David McLemore of Winnsboro, the chairman of the board of the district, said that the $5 million to $6 million can be better used to buy national media and not promote regional events.

By law, the district gets .003 percent of the state sales tax and must spend it to advertise and promote the state in out-of-state markets; only 10 percent of the revenues can be used to advertise the state to Louisiana residents.

Tourism industry officials say that for every dollar invested in tourism, the state receives $17 in return.

In the 2009-10 fiscal year, the Legislature siphoned off some of the tourism money to help pay for budget items that previously had been financed with state general fund dollars.

Some of the items the board struck for financing from the tourism tax revenues include more than $1 million for the Essence Music festival; almost $1.4 million for the Sugar Bowl; $604,500 for the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, the agency that helps attract big-time sporting events to the New Orleans area; $334,018 for the Independence Bowl in Shreveport; $311,7652 for the New Orleans Bowl; and $500,000 for the New Orleans Bassmaster fishing tournament.

"It (the district's tax) should be given to an agency that promotes things statewide, not one specific area," McLemore said.

The board did not oppose financing the events, just the use of the tourism tax money to do so.

The tax is projected to bring in about $21.56 million in the fiscal year that ends in June and about $22.25 million for the fiscal year ending June 2012.

Media advertising budgets for the past two years have been under $3 million, a fraction of what neighboring states spend on tourism advertising and promotions, McLemore said.

Pam Breaux, secretary of the culture and tourism agency, said that 29 percent of the tourism office's budget now goes to the "pass-though programs" the Legislature mandated the office to fund with the taxes, the largest single expenditure of the tax. Tourism promotion efforts, she said, are second to the nontourism program, about 26 percent of this year's tax revenues.

Breaux told the board that once the Legislature approves the budget with those line-items in it, there is no way to change it in a fiscal year.

"We can do more statewide with that 29 percent," McLemore said. "Let's get some money back into out-of-state-tourism."

He encouraged the board to start calling lawmakers to protect the money it needs to better finance tourism advertising for next year's budget.