Lines drawn over tourism funding level Glendening opposes measures requiring annual increases

House holds hearing today

Assembly supporters try to double spending to $6 million by 2001

February 26, 1997|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Setting the stage for a legislative showdown over money to attract visitors to Maryland, Gov. Parris N. Glendening is opposing measures that would require the state's chief executive to request annual increases in tourism spending.

Matching House and Senate bills, designed to double marketing spending to $6 million by 2001, have drawn strong support from legislative leaders, including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and heads of key panels in both chambers.

Supporters of the House bill, the subject of a House Appropriations Committee hearing this morning, argue that without built-in annual increases necessary to develop marketing plans, Maryland risks stunting the growth of its more than $6 billion annual tourism trade.

Glendening, who has repeatedly called tourism one of his adminstration's "top priorities," has held fast to his opposition to any bill requiring him to request a set increase for three years, in this case, $1 million a year.

Vowing to fight for the increase, Taylor, the lead sponsor of the House version, noted that Maryland has lagged competitors in marketing for decades and called the mandated increases crucial to the health of the industry.

"I really think it's a major mistake to go backward on this tourism marketing; we have way too much at stake, too much invested in major tourism attractions," said Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat who plans to lead testimony on the bill today.

But James T. Brady, Maryland secretary of business and economic development, countered that the governor is committed to ensuring the state spends enough on tourism marketing to stay competitive, but believes annual increases should be based on results.

"The governor is opposed to mandated funding -- that is, funding he has to do irrespective of results -- but he is very committed to an aggressive tourism budget, and he is very commited to ensuring we have a budget that's competitive with other states," Brady said.

Maryland raised spending for its tourism office in July 1995 to $8.6 million, from $5.2 million.

The biggest and most visible portion of that boost increased marketing spending to about $3 million, enabling the state to mount its most ambitious campaign ever. It features television spots and colorful ads in high-profile publications.

The second year of the campaign, created by the tourism office's ad agency, W. B. Doner & Co., debuts this spring.

The pending measures came as a result of a measure requiring the governor to request that the legislature maintain the spending for three fiscal years. But the three-year increase expires after the next fiscal year, feeding uncertainty over long-term marketing.

The House and Senate bills, their sponsors say, represent a middle ground between the goals of the tourism industry and budget realities.

Opening the session, the Maryland Tourism Council -- a coalition of local tourism agencies, hotels, attractions and restaurants -- had asked to raise annual marketing spending from $3 million to $6 million beginning in July of next year.

That would have brought the budget for the state Office of Tourism Development to about $11.6 million, with the entire increase going toward luring visitors.

The increase would significantly narrow the gap between Maryland's tourism budget and that of some competing states.

Virginia, for example, now spends $16 million, nearly twice as much as Maryland, and is expected to increase that to at least $24 million in the next four years. Pennsylvania earmarks more than $14 million a year. Maryland ranks well below Minnesota, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Missouri, among others.

Given the tiny piece of the state budget at stake, the governor's move took industry leaders by surprise.

"We were obviously very disappointed and surprised because we think the tourism office is doing a good job and the governor has said tourism is a big priority," said Mary Jo McCulloch, director of the tourism council and the Maryland Hotel & Motel Association.

Killing the set funding request -- initiated by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- would set the marketing effort and the industry back immeasurably, she said.

"The governor thinks the office of tourism should have to come in each year and defend its budget," McCulloch said. "But then you have absolutely no predictable marketing budget year to year, and that's where we were."

The state tourism office hopes to extend advertising well beyond the current 300-mile radius to increase the number of visitors, lengths of stay and spending. Maryland trails competitors by all these measures, losing millions in potential tax revenues and thousands of jobs to better-financed competitors.

Proponents of the increase cited industry figures showing a dollar invested in marketing typically results in seven times that amount in visitor spending.

Maryland's tourism industry generates 80,000 jobs and more than $350 million in annual tax revenues.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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