Local lawmaker ferrets out tourism funds

SANDUSKY A local lawmaker helped find millions of dollars to keep the state's tourism department afl
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010



A local lawmaker helped find millions of dollars to keep the state's tourism department afloat after Gov. Ted Strickland tried to wipe out state funding for the agency.

The funding obtained by state Sen. Mark Wagoner, R-Ottawa Hills, will help keep alive programs that promote tourism such as 1-800-BUCKEYE, travel brochures and discoverohio.com. That's particularly important for the Sandusky area, which relies on tourism, said Joan Van Offeren, executive director of Lake Erie Shores and Islands East.

"We are so proud and fortunate to have the leadership we have to make that happen," Van Offeren said.

Earlier this year, Strickland proposed $8.2 million for the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism, said Marc McQuaid, executive director of the Ohio Travel Association.

But on June 20, when the governor presented his revised plan for a balanced budget, Strickland proposed $400,000 for the fiscal year that began July 1 and nothing for fiscal year 2011. The governor proposed a "public/private partnership" would figure out how to raise the needed money.

Van Offeren said she was "shocked and disappointed" by Strickland's proposal.

She noted Michigan appropriated $30 million to promote tourism, resulting in the "Pure Michigan" TV ads that bombard northern Ohio airwaves.

Wagoner found $8.4 million of unclaimed funds in the Ohio Department of Development for the current fiscal year and $3.8 million for fiscal year 2011. He got promises from the department that the bulk of the money would be used for tourism.

Division of Tourism director Amir Eylon said his agency wound up with a $5.1 million budget for the current fiscal year -- the $400,000 of general revenue fund sought by the governor and $4.7 million from the unclaimed funds.

Ohio is still going to try to find a new model for funding tourism, but the final budget will provide time to do that, Wagoner said.

The governor's proposal was "just not enough time to responsibly plan for a transition like that, and not enough money to do it, either," he said.

Florida and California are two examples of states that use a public/private funding model, said Tamara Brown, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Tourism Division.

Although Florida's tourism effort gets most of its money from the private sector, it still gets significant funding from state government, said Dea Kuykendall, public affairs manager for Visit Florida.

The private industry chips in $2 for every dollar Visit Florida gets from the state. Everyone from "mom and pop" kayak rental companies to Disney World makes contributions.

Visit Florida receives about 15 percent of a $2 surcharge applied to every rental car bill. That generated about $18 million of state money for Visit Florida last year, she said.