Saturday, May 6, 2017

Good Wis tourism $ in 2016, but WisGOP will keep it from continuing

Yesterday, our Fair Governor used our tax dollars to go around the state to cheerlead for the state's tourism industry. It happened to coincide with the release of the state's annual report on the economic impact of tourism, and indeed 2016 was a very good year for Wisconsin tourism, reflecting the continued expansion of the greater economy. Tourism-related business sales in Wisconsin grew by $676 million to nearly $20 billion last year, a solid 3.5% increase, and direct visitor spending grew by nearly 3.3%.

The report also features this neat spreadsheet which shows the tourism-related economy in every Wisconsin county. In general, the state's most tourism-heavy counties had very strong years in 2016, and For the second year in a row, the counties that house the state's 2 largest cities were far and away the largest attractors of tourism spending in the state. Those big-city counties also beat the 3.3% increase that the state as a whole had.

Top 5 counties for direct visitor spending, Wisconsin
Milwaukee Co. $1,931.1 million (+3.93%)
Dane County $1,213.6 million (+5.16%)
Sauk County $1,047.9 million (+4.24%)
Waukesha Co. $742.9 million (+2.94%)
Brown County $637.9 million (+3.95%)

The high tourism totals in Brown County seem especially intriguing, since the 0.5% sales tax that funded the renovations at Lambeau Field was eliminated last fall, and now the county is receiving no direct funds from all that tourism spending because it doesn't have a sales tax of its own. I wonder if that's part of the reason that Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach was calling for a new sales tax to be put in to help pay for various big-ticket county projects in the coming years. Better to have the people in town for the Pack or the Billy Joel concerts to pay a share of it than make the locals in GB and the burbs pay for it all, right?

Also noteworthy in that tourism report is that not every place in Wisconsin shared in the increase in tourism. 16 of the state's 72 counties saw a decline in tourism spending vs 2015, and the places that suffered the biggest drops were all outside of the southeastern 1/4 of the state.

8 largest declines in visitor spending, 2016
Jackson County -8.98%
Monroe County -6.19%
Manitowoc Co. -2.77%
Dunn County -2.74%
Crawford Co. -2.04%
Langlade Co. -1.98%
Adams County -1.34%
Price County -1.34%

The places in western Wisconsin with the biggest drops have been subject to ongoing disputes regarding frack sand mining (and nearby Trempealeau County barely saw its tourism soending increase by a measly 0.26%). While most of these places don't have tourism as the primary source of their economy, there is one exception in there - Adams County. And Adams County and the environment of the rest of the Central Sands area was front and center to one of the biggest debates in the State Legislature this week.

The GOP-run State Assembly jammed through a bill on high-capacity wells without an Assembly committee hearing this week, which allows large dairy businesses to transfer water-use rights without inspection, and use large amounts of lake and well water in the process. These mega-farms and large Combined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have been blamed for lowering water levels throughout the area, and in putting the environment of Adams County and the surrounding area at risk. This was noted by the Number 2 Democrat in the Assembly during the bill's debate, and she was moved near tears when discussing the issue.
Democrat Katrina Shankland represents the Central Sands region, where agriculture groups and conservationists have clashed over the bill.

"To the people of the Central Sands, I heard you – I’m so sorry we can't find a solution that works for all of us today," Shankland said during an emotional speech on the Assembly floor.

Other critics expressed concern depleted groundwater could hurt Wisconsin’s tourism industry.
Well, the decline in Adams County tourism indicates that it may already be happening, as the area saw a drop of nearly $3 million in visitor spending in 2016, while nearby Sauk, Columbia and Juneau counties all saw increases between 4.2% and 5.9%.

But interestingly, Governor Walker doesn't seem too concerned about this potential damage in Adams County, as he has said he will sign the high-capacity well bill. And he didn't mention that Northwoods counties such as Oconto, Vilas, Florence and Marinette all had changes at or below 0% for tourism spending in 2016, and CAFO-polluted Kewaunee County barely broke 1%.

I mean, why should we care about keeping these scenes, right Guv?

For all the bragging our Governor likes to bring up about State of Wisconsin's attributes for tourism, he doesn't want to do anything to make the state more attractive for tourists. This includes he and equally-bought Attorney General Brad Schimel refusing to protect our great natural scenery or in supporting the two largest cities in the state that grab the most dollars from visitors. But then again, suburb boys Walker and Schimel have never held a job that weren't related to partisan hackery and their own self-promotion, so how would they know what makes things special in Wisconsin, and why other people might like to come here?

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