The Senate Finance Committee got an outline of the proposed state budget Monday, and Houma Senator Norby Chaubert was curious about something.
“I notice that the majority of the statewide offices saw an increase in funding,” Chaubert said. “But I did not see the Lieutenant Governor’s budget getting any bump.”
The Lieutenant Governor’s office, which oversees the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, is indeed struggling to make ends meet.
“We have managers of state parks who are literally cleaning toilets and changing sheets,” Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne told committee members.
And the proposed budget for state parks next year is 5 million dollars less than Dardenne had requested--$32 million, rather than $37 million dollars. Overall, state funding for tourism has been cut 38 percent since 2008, now down to just the funds constitutionally dedicated to tourism—about 24-million dollars a year.
“Tourism is funded exclusively with three-one hundredths of a penny of sales tax,” Dardenne explained. He added that those dollars, which are supposed to be used for tourism ads and promotions, are frequently earmarked for other things by the Jindal administration.
“A couple of years ago—you’ll recall—we had to fund the Super Bowl. That money came entirely from the tourism budget.”
Six million dollars from the tourism budget went to the NFL for that event, along with another $6-million in private contributions. It was not an “incentive payment” Dardenne’s office had expected to be required to make.
“I would suggest to you that—as was done in the past--those funds should be provided from the General Fund dollars and not the tourism budget,” Dardenne told the committee.
He pointed out the state gets its money’s worth from the tourism industry, which lured 26-million visitors to Louisiana in 2012.
“Those visitors spent $10.7 billion dollars, leaving behind 665-million dollars in tax revenue,” the Lt. Governor said. “You’re not paying that. I’m not paying it. The constituents of Louisiana aren’t paying it, yet it’s helping cover the costs of state government.”
That’s a 28-to-1 return on investment for the $24-million dollars spent to promote Louisiana tourism.
“And I dare say most agencies that sit before you don’t tell you how they are able to return dollars to the state,” Dardenne added.