Dardenne: State raiding tourism budget

“We are really not investing as we should and taking advantage of this industry.” Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne

The state should quit raiding tourism marketing and promotion dollars for special events, such as the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said Monday.

Dollars should be set aside in a special revolving fund for such major sporting and other events in which state financial commitments are made as part of deals to land them, Dardenne told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Dardenne said a $5 million to $10 million fund should be created “to make sure we can support these events as they come up.”

New Orleans will be bidding on other major events in the coming years and funding needs to be available, he said.

“This is a long-term need for Louisiana. We cannot lurch from event to event when money is suddenly needed and take it out of a budget, particularly tourism,” Dardenne said.

In past years funding for the Super Bowl and other events has come from the state Department of Economic Development or in directly appropriated state funds, he said. “It’s just been over the last couple of years the bull’s eye has been placed on the tourism budget,” Dardenne said.

Dardenne said Louisiana tourism is a $10.5 billion industry that generated some $850 million in state tax revenue last year. He said the industry today employs 213,906 people — a nearly 13,000 person jump from 2010, when he became the agency’s head.

“Not only does it bring in revenues, it creates jobs and has tremendous intangible impact as people from outside Louisiana examine our state,” Dardenne said.

State tourism dollars are generated by a three one-hundredths of a penny sales tax, Dardenne said. “We are really not investing as we should and taking advantage of this industry,” he said.

In the current budget year, the $23 million generated through the tax did not get to tourism marketing and promotion efforts because of Jindal administration earmarks, including the $6 million state contribution to the Super Bowl, Dardenne said.

Tourism funds were also tapped for a state financial commitment to the NCAA Women’s Final Four — another $1 million, operating expenses of the new Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches, an arts grants program and more.

Dardenne said Jindal’s budget office has said to prepare for a $6 million reduction in his office’s funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2013. The dollar amount is the same as that earmarked from tourism dollars for the state contribution to the Super Bowl, he said.

“We had hoped we would be able to retain those dollars (for tourism promotion) but with the cuts that seem to be on the horizon it looks like that money is going to be eaten up before we can spend it,” said Dardenne.

Instead of taking tourism promotion dollars, Dardenne said the state needs to establish some kind of on-going funding source to pay for its commitment to special events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four.

Dardenne said under discussion has been a revolving fund into which would flow a fraction more of sales tax revenues or use some kind of model that projects increased revenues coming from events such as the Super Bowl and using those dollars as seed money in a fund.

A committee chaired by state Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, is working on a proposal for potential submission to the Legislature in 2013, he said.