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Guest editorial: Spend more to plug MN as destination

In 1993, voters in Colorado repealed their state's tourism tax, which, in today's dollars, was fueling an $18 million-a-year marketing effort to attract visitors. At the time the state was tops in the nation as a summer resort destination.

Without the marketing, though, Colorado soon struggled to crack the top 20.

Minnesota similarly is struggling to spend enough to promote itself effectively as the premiere convention, travel and vacation destination it is and could be. The $8 million being spent here annually is about the same as was being spent in 1990, according to tourism officials. And Minnesota ranks 30th among the 40 states that even try (eight states don't fund tourism offices).

The average being spent per state is $14 million, which is 75 percent more than the Gopher State spends. And we're being outspent by all of our neighbors in the upper Midwest, with Michigan and its $27 million-a-year tourism-promotion budget leading the way.

Minnesota appears poised to step it up, however. Four bills, each with bipartisan authorship, are moving through the state Legislature this session with promises of doubling the state's tourism-marketing budget. An increase to about $16 million a year also was included by Gov. Mark Dayton in his proposed budget.

Even people wary of rising government spending can get behind this increase.

Also, the additional money could come from an increase in the state's tax on car rentals. In other words, visitors to our state would be the ones primarily paying to attract more visitors to our state. Already our visitors are spending $11.9 billion a year, which supports nearly 240,000 jobs and $4.1 billion in wages. The industry is worth the investment.

Minnesota's 6.2 percent tax on car rentals was enacted in 1991 when Minneapolis hosted football's Super Bowl. The money from the tax goes into the state's general fund to the tune of about $15.7 million a year. The governor proposed increasing the tax by about 3 percent.

Whether additional tourism-promotion money comes directly from the tax or from the general fund (which is where it comes from now) or from a combination of the two can be worked out in committee before the end of the legislative session.

Our state has terrific attractions, including the North Shore, Canal Park, the Brainerd lakes area, the Bemidji area's lake resorts and the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolis. But right now, "We don't have the resources to tell anyone," as Lisa Paxton of the Minnesota Tourism Growth Coalition testified this week in St. Paul.

That demands to change this legislative session.

-- Duluth News Tribune