Wayne Greenhaw op-ed about tourism cuts

From the op-ed piece “Business Questions” by Wayne Greenhaw in the Montgomery Advertiser:

I was astounded when Gov. Robert Bentley announced that he was cutting the budget of the Alabama Tourism Department in half. In my estimation, the governor’s action puts tourism on a course toward colliding with a train at an intersection. Such a wreck is not good for state government. In these situations, why don’t politicians ask themselves a simple question: What would businessmen do?

The Alabama Tourism Department is the one state agency that shows a profit at the end of each year. Bed tax revenue, paid by every traveler who spends the night in an Alabama hotel or motel, is collected and goes into state coffers. In his State of the State speech, Gov. Bentley said “Historical sites, tourism attractions and Halls of Fame are wonderful for tourism and travel, but they are not as important as providing health care to low-income children and elderly or as to keeping state troopers on the road.” Of course, on the surface he is correct. Health care and security are more important than tourist attractions. Why are those troopers on the road? They are there because travelers chose to drive on the highways of our state. Why? Because many of them want to enjoy the beauty and rich history and wonder of Alabama. These travelers are lured here by the successful promotion of the tourism department that has been doing an excellent job, particularly in the past eight years.

With each mile they drive in Alabama, travelers add to our tax base. Many buy gas within our borders. Each time they buy gas, they pay state tax. Why not use this money to pay for health care of low-income children and the elderly? Why not use it for other necessities? Tourists who go to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham, the Brierfield Ironworks and Historic Ironworks at Tannehill, the State Agricultural Museum in Dothan, the First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery, and the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame in Lincoln (to name only a few losing funds in Bentley’s proposed budget) not only pay bed and gas tax, they also eat at our restaurants. Some buy goods at our department stores. Some may even purchase soft drinks and snacks at service stations. When that happens, not only does the profit stay here, but the taxes are divided between the state and the city.

When tourists arrive in Montgomery, they do not simply go to the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University downtown or Old Alabama Town or the Civil Rights Memorial or the Hank Williams Museum (all of which are promoted actively by the Alabama Tourism Department), they also eat breakfast at one of our fine cafes, lunch or dinner at our extraordinary restaurants, and enjoy the amenities of the River City. “You have so much in Alabama,” a visitor from Detroit told us last year as we showed them around town. “Until we saw the ads on television in Michigan, we knew nothing about the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.” Another from Chicago expressed delight with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center at Huntsville, where they stayed at the nearby Marriott and enjoyed drinks and dinner at Rosie’s Mexican Cantina. At each of these locations they paid taxes, some of which found their way into the state’s funds.

The so-called businessman-politicians who are now occupying the Legislature should ask themselves: What would a businessman faced with less funds than he’d counted on for next year’s budget do? Would he cut the cash cow in his holdings? Or would he find ways to make that cash cow earn even more revenue?

Wayne Greenhaw

For the complete op-ed piece please see http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/article/20110313/OPINION0101/103130303/Alabama-Voices-Business-question.

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