Our Fair Governor started off this week by showing up in Appleton and talking up the state's ability to attract visitors.
Tourism in Wisconsin isn’t entirely about attractions, Gov. Scott Walker said Monday morning.(excuse me while I roll my eyes and shake my head for a while…Ok, we continue).
“It’s the people. It’s you,” Walker told about 1,000 people gathered for his speech at the annual Governor's Conference on Tourism at the Fox Cities Exhibition Center in downtown Appleton…
Walker was driven to the stage in a fire engine and stepped off dressed in a cowboy hat and snowmobile jacket. But that wasn’t all. Tucked away inside the jacket? A bottle of Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy and a pair of binoculars.
As part of that Governor’s Conference, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism released their annual fact sheet on the impact of tourism in Wisconsin. It showed the continued growth of the US economy helped to attract more visitors and their spending dollars to the state in 2016.
Tourism had a $20 billion impact on the state’s economy in 2016, up $700 million or 3.5% from $19.3 billion in 2015. The total six-year growth of tourism activity is up more than $5.2 billion, a 35% increase from $14.8 billion.The Department of Tourism added that 193,500 jobs in the state were supported by the industry in 2016, including 35% of jobs in recreation and nearly ¼ of food and beverage positions.
Visitor growth topped 107.7 million in 2016, a six-year increase of 15.2 million.
International travel in 2016 was up $100 million over 2015.
The Governor's Conference was also an occasion for the Department of Tourism to unveil its new "Travel Wisconsin" campaign, and I actually saw this ad on the air tonight. I liked it.
The ad is all about how great a city Milwaukee is, which is odd coming from an administration whose Governor openly said in 2012 "You don't want Wisconsin to be like Milwaukee." But the ad does hint at a truth that isn't repeated enough, which is that the two largest metropolitan areas of the state are its two largest tourist attractions. And not only did those big cities attract the most money, they also had larger gains than the state’s 3.3% overall gain in tourist spending for 2016.
Most tourism-related spending, Wis counties, 2016
Milwaukee Co. $1,931.2 million (+3.9%)
Dane County $1,213.6 million (+5.2%)
Sauk County $1,047.9 million (+4.2%)
Waukesha Co. $742.9 million (+2.9%)
Brown County $637.9 million (+3.95%)
Walworth Co. $528.9 million (+3.8%)
Door County $347.8 million (+4.5%)
Outagamie Co. $339.5 million (+1.2%)
It's not just for corporate office jobs these days.
Which again leads me to point out that Milwaukee and Dane Counties add a significant boost to the state’s economy as a tourist attraction (including a combined 53,000 jobs between the two counties), but they’re not able to do much to keep the extra tourist dollars that they generate. All they get are the 0.5% county sales tax, and Milwaukee designated taxes for the Miller Park and Wisconsin Center Districts, which only go to the Brewers' stadium, the convention center and the new Bucks arena.
That's different than Sauk County, where the Village of Lake Delton is allowed to tack on a 1.25% additional sales tax as a premiere resort area. The nearby City of Wisconsin Dells also has this 1.25% tax, and the premiere resort tax is a concession to the extra services that tourism forces a community to take on, and takes the burden off the property tax for local citizens to pay for those services. Why not allow the same principle for places such as Milwaukee, Madison and others who have numerous out-of-towners, leading to additional needs that their homeowners have to pick up the tab for?
It’s also interesting that Walker lauded Appleton’s $31.9 million Fox Cities Exhibition Center at yesterday’s photo op. I say this because a State Senate committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a bill that would allow two other Wisconsin communities to add local taxes to pay for downtown improvements, with the idea of encouraging conventions and individuals to visit.
Under this bill, with regard to any local exposition district that is created by the City of Superior or the City of Eau Claire, such a district is not subject to a legislative finding that the provision of public funding and other assistance from the state and from local units of government to assist in the development and construction of sports and entertainment facilities serves a public purpose. In addition, the bill changes the definition of “exposition center” for such a district to include recreational and sporting activities as an allowable primary purpose of facilities and structures that may be constructed as part of a district.The Wisconsin DOR estimates that approval of these provisions could add more than $1 million a year for the City of Eau Claire, and $370,000 to the City of Superior.
Under the bill, before an enabling resolution adopted by the City of Superior or the City of Eau Claire may take effect, it must be approved in a referendum by a majority of the electors in the city voting on the resolution, except that if the creation of an exposition district by the City of Superior was approved in a referendum that was held in Douglas County in 2016 (which it was), the referendum requirement is considered to be satisfied.
Under the bill, a district created by the City of Superior or the City of Eau Claire may impose and collect a food and beverage tax, and may impose and collect a room tax at a maximum rate of 2 percent. The bill provides that the City of Superior or the City of Eau Claire may also impose and collect a room tax without regard to whether the district imposes a room tax. The bill prohibits the district from imposing a rental car tax.
And in another part of Northern Wisconsin, there are calls for allowing more sales taxes to allow more of a chance to renew and improve the local economy as well as quality of life.
After some intense discussion on Monday, the Marinette County Economic Development & Tourism Committee forwarded to the county's Finance & Insurance Committee a draft resolution asking the Wisconsin state legislature to authorize any county to impose up to a 0.5 percent sales tax in order to fund community and economic development.And Scott Walker won’t say this at his photo ops encouraging tourism, but it’s Walker/WisGOP policies that have kept these local communities from investing more in items that can attract more tourism. Whether it’s through handcuffing local governments with state aid cuts and property tax limits, or through environmental degradation and increasing potholes on state highways, the Wisconsin GOP have failed when it comes to making the investments required that helps the state’s recent increases in tourism to continue.
The resolution draft, which asked the state legislature to enact legislation "in a timely fashion," referenced the request from Fincantieri Marinette Marine to provide financial support for facility upgrades. The shipyard is seeking to modify its shipyard to be conducive to building frigate-class ships for the U.S. Navy or multi-mission surface combatant (MMSC) for the Saudi Arabian Navy. Marinette Marine is looking for about $100 million for improvements to the shipyard for construction and the Menominee River for launching purposes.
County Administrator John Lefebvre reiterated that Marinette Marine had originally sought $15 million to $20 million in local support.
"We've come to the conclusion that if they're looking for the county to give them some money, monetarily, the only way that that's going to happen is if we have some funding mechanism to do that," he said. "The funding mechanism would be an additional sales tax: Not the property tax to Marinette County, it would be a sales tax."
So yesterday's event was yet another example of how Scott Walker talks out of both sides of his mouth. Using racial and anti-urban resentments to talk down the state's largest city, and grab votes from stupid white people, then having his Department of Tourism release a campaign that tells people to come to Milwaukee because it's so great there. Walker tries to claim that Wisconsin has much to offer visitors, but then won't allow those communities a chance to add to those amenities, and instead backs policies that make Wisconsin less attractive to come to and live in.
Can you imagine how much more tourism this state might get if we had a Governor who cared about our great cities and national resources, and we stopped having this reputation as a regressive red state? Let's find out this November.