Springfield, MO

State proposal slashes tourism department budget

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In the state's effort to reduce expenses in a down economy, the Missouri Department of Economic Development is proposing to cut its fiscal 2010 budget by $11.3 million, 64 percent of which would come from the Department of Tourism.

A budget proposal sent Tuesday from the Tourism Department to state tourism associations indicates that $7 million in cuts would come from tourism for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. That cut represents roughly 35 percent of the Tourism Department's total budget. Comparatively, other departments such as public broadcasting and the Missouri Arts Council face only about 10 percent reductions.

"While Missouri's tourism industry can certainly understand the need to address the projected shortfall in state revenue this year, DED's disproportionate distribution of those cuts illustrates the department's attempt to unfairly force one agency to shoulder the bulk of its overall budget reduction," the Missouri Tourism Commission Legislative Committee said in the e-mail sent Tuesday to its members.

Tracy Kimberlin, president of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the proposed reduction could have a devastating impact on tourism statewide; the state's advertising budget would likely be cut to about $6 million from $11 million, meaning fewer visitors to the state.

But Kimberlin said the impact also could be more direct on the Ozarks. He pointed to the cooperative marketing program, which provides matching grant funding for individual CVBs around the state.

"If that were totally eliminated, our ad budget would go from $1.5 million to a couple hundred thousand," Kimberlin said. "That would directly impact Springfield."

The decision to make the cuts is based on the fact that the Tourism Department has a $4.5 million fund balance - but Kimberlin said that money is already needed to repay bills for expenses from earlier this year, and therefore can't be carried over to next year.

"The contention that the cut is only $2.5 million because of that fund balance is malarkey," Kimberlin said.

The reductions have not yet been approved, and MTC is encouraging its members to contact legislators about the proposal.

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