JFC reworks Evers tourism proposal

The Joint Finance Committee reworked Tony Evers’ proposal to promote tourism in Wisconsin, including paring back money designated for marketing.

The centerpiece of Evers’ plan was a call to put $5 million for the agency’s marketing appropriation while putting in another $186,700 for a new marketing position. He also wanted to add $200,000 over the budget for Tourism’s Native American Tourism budget, which is funded by tribal gaming.

Instead, Republicans approved placing nearly $1.6 million in general purpose revenue in the committee’s supplemental appropriation that Tourism could come back to seek later.

Republicans said they were hesitant to approve the proposed increase without additional information on how it would be spent. The agency plans to complete in July a new strategic plan to guide its future marketing strategy and didn’t have a defined role for the proposed new position.

The state now spends $12.5 million on tourism promotion, including just more than $1.8 million in GPR. The bulk of the effort is funded by tribal gaming revenues, and it hasn’t increased significantly since hitting $12.3 million in 2011-12.

Rep. Terry Katsma, R-Oostburg, said he couldn’t support the requested money because “there’s no concrete evidence of what’s going to be done.”

But Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, called what Republicans approved “anemic” and “pathetic,” saying it leaves the state behind others for investments in tourism.

“Your priorities don’t seem to be investing in local economies and local communities,” she said.

The marketing boost Evers proposed included an additional $3 million in 2019-20 that would support promotional efforts for national events, including the Democratic National Convention in July 2020 and golf’s Ryder Cup in September 2020.

Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said promoting those events was unnecessary because just hosting them will put the state in the national eye.

“We’re going to get millions upon millions upon millions of free advertising for Wisconsin next year,” he said.

But Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said that boost wasn’t included in the guv’s budget to get people to come to the DNC or the Ryder Cup. It’s to get those attending those events to explore other parts of the state and for those watching them on TV to visit as well.

In tourism, the committee also voted along party lines to:

*approve Evers’ request for two positions to do video production. But it offset that by using money already in the agency’s budget and deleting two vacant positions. Under the agency’s plan, the positions would produce videos that could be used on social media and other platforms, but larger projects, such as TV commercials, would still be produced through an outside contract.

*approve creation of the Office of Outdoor Recreation, but funded it on a one-time basis, requiring the agency to come back in two years to seek a renewal of the funding. The move would create three positions and provide $623,300 for the new office, which would promote outdoor recreational opportunities. It also would collaborate with the Department of Natural Resources to try to drum up visits to state parks, which the DNR currently promotes.

*approve deleting three vacant positions in the office of marketing services, which works with other agencies on communication and marketing. The agencies then pay the office for that work. The guv wanted to delete the three positions and fund the existing director’s job with GPR. The committee’s move would continue funding the position with the fees agencies pay for the services. The agency has indicated the office, created in the 2015-17 budget, has suffered from inconsistent revenues and a lack of awareness and usage by other agencies.

*reject an additional $143,800 in state aid for Wisconsin Arts Board within the agency. The board awards grants that aid local communities in promoting the arts.