The Joint Revenue Committee met in Lander earlier this month to continue discussions focused on diversifying Wyoming’s energy dependent revenue streams. As the meeting was concluding, the focus turned to the recently considered statewide lodging tax that would have funded the Wyoming Office of Tourism and reverted $25 million back to the state’s biennium budget. The bill did not advance and as discussions wound down, one committee member suggested that Wyoming could eliminate the Office of Tourism, citing his belief that the agency “cooked the books” to inflate impact numbers.
Those comments were inaccurate and unfortunate.
At a meeting intended to generate options that diversify Wyoming’s boom-and-bust economy, why would a lawmaker make the suggestion to drive down our second-largest industry by government design?
Unless statewide taxpayers are prepared to pay more in personal taxes to make up for losses after a revenue generating industry is cut, the answer is clear: grow tourism. Promoting Wyoming as a vacation destination to attract visitors in an extremely competitive environment is a proven economic success formula year after year. More importantly the visitor economy represents the people of Main Street Wyoming.
Wyoming Mom and Pop, son and daughter business people work incredibly hard and are the hearts and souls of Wyoming’s Main Streets. These aren’t faceless employees. These are friends and neighbors, whose efforts generate tax revenues that help support emergency services, first rate schools, quality roads and bright streetlights. When you talk tourism, it’s not just a word. It’s an economic engine that everyone in Wyoming benefits from either directly or indirectly.
• Fact: Tourism generates significant sales tax revenues. If sales tax revenues from tourism decline, the burden falls on other taxpayers to fund basic services.
• Fact: In 2018, 8.7 million overnight stays in Wyoming generated $3.8 billion in spending and $196 million in local and state tax revenue. Revenue that our communities and state depend on.
• Fact: The visitor economy supports more than 32,000 jobs and is the largest private-sector employer in Wyoming.
• Fact: Wyoming is at its best when we all work together. Tourism, Agriculture and Energy are pillars that help each other and are fundamental to our economy. We need all three of our legacy industries to be strong to help strengthen and diversify our economy.
When Colorado lawmakers eliminated their statewide tourism agency in 1993, their domestic market share plunged 30 percent and they lost $1.4 billion in revenues within two years. Once they came to their senses and restored their tourism agency it took nearly a decade for the state to get back to its former revenue levels. Would Wyoming taxpayers be willing to make up for the lost revenue if we repeated Colorado’s blunder?
As a state we need to remain laser focused on growing jobs and the economy. Our Main Streets need to thrive. Lets continue to work together on solutions to diversify our economy rather than suggest ways to tear it down.