By ADAM DeLAY
Capital News Service
LANSING – The Pure Michigan advertising campaign, which has produced ads seen and heard across the country since 2006, may soon end unless the Legislature votes to continue funding.
Pure Michigan had a budget of $17.5 million last year and $30 million this year.
Rep. Dan Scripps, D-Leland, has introduced a bill to secure funding in the future by redirecting 4 percent of taxes on tourism-related products and services and placing the money into a fund that could only be used on tourism promotion.
“Basically, a portion of the tax money that is spent on tourism in the state is used to fund the promotion,” said Scripps.
According to Scripps, the plan would bring in $8 million for Pure Michigan’s budget next year.
A police union leader, however, said that with the state’s budget problem, there are more important things to fund than tourism. The state laid off 100 troopers this year alone.
“Public safety should be at the top of our priorities,” said Michael Moorman, president of the Michigan State Police Troopers Association.
“We would like to see our troopers restored in order to better protect citizens. From our perspective, public safety, as well as many other things, should certainly rank higher than tourism,” he said.
But Scripps says his proposal wouldn’t divert money from other programs.
“It’s not something that takes away from things like police and fire or the Promise grant,” he said. “It actually will give money to these programs once it’s fully funded.”
Another bill by Rep. Woodrow Stanley, D-Flint, would impose a $2.50 fee on car rentals within five miles of an airport to fund tourism advertising.
Car rental companies criticize the proposal for singling out their businesses.
“Zeroing in on our customers artificially raises the cost of renting a vehicle in this challenging economy,” said Ray Wagner, vice president of government and legislative affairs for Enterprise Rent-A-Car car in St. Louis.
“These taxes are harmful for consumers as well as businesses,” he said.
Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, who is a co-sponsor of Stanley’s bill, said the fee would be only temporary.
“We’re using this as a bridge to the $40 million we want to have for tourism funding, and would be dropped when the campaign reach that goal,” he said.
The bill is also co-sponsored by Reps. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield, Joe Haveman, R-Holland, and Lesia Liss, D-Warren.
The Michigan Economic Development Corp. estimates the bill would generate $13 million a year.
Other criticisms of Pure Michigan have centered on the content of the ads.
For example, Tony Hansen, deputy director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said the ads miss the opportunity to highlight Michigan’s outdoor life.
“You have all these Pure Michigan ads and not one of them is about hunting or fishing,” he said.
Kirsten Borgstrom, media relations manager for Travel Michigan, the state’s tourism promotion, which oversees the ads, acknowledged that there are no hunting and fishing ads.
“It’s true, and we’ve noticed that,” she said. “We found that people are coming to the state for warm weather activities, and we at first wanted to highlight those things that people in our surveys came to Michigan to do. Looking ahead, however, we do expect to begin focusing more on things like hunting and fishing.”
Borgstrom also says the state should have a hand in tourism advertising because it’s more effective than the industry advertising itself.
“The industry already advertises itself, but on a more local and regional level. A state-oriented effort allows us to have a more consistent message and to sell the state as a whole,” she said
As the debate over funding tourism advertising continues, McDowell says it’s important to keep Pure Michigan’s successes in mind.
“For every dollar we spend, we get $3 back in tax revenue, which we can use to fund education, health care and public safety,” he said.
“It’s been received as one of the best advertising campaigns of all time. When people see these ads people want to come here.”
The two bills have been voted out of the House Tourism, Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Committee and are awaiting a vote of the full House.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.