Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Correctly Framing the Argument: A Deal to Fund the Pure Michigan Campaign

One of the most tragic and potentially devastating cuts from the budget was the loss of adequate funding for a nationwide Pure Michigan campaign. Winner of numerous advertising awards, named as one of the top ten best tourism campaigns ever, credited for keeping vacationers coming to the state during this huge economic downturn, it was all kinds of stupid to slash the money that was driving success for our state's No. 2 industry - but its loss was buried under the avalanche of stories of other losses, and went practically unnoticed outside the people who are depending on it to keep their businesses alive.

The winter ad buy is already gone thanks to the legislature's failure to act, but the House is spending this last week making up for all its sins, apparently. In the rush to put completed legislation on their yearly tally, a package of bills designed to fund Pure Michigan will move in the next few days.
A four-bill package would capture sales tax growth on tourism-related businesses and, in the meantime, let the Michigan Economic Development Corp. issue bonds to pay for the program's $30 million annual budget.


The proposed long-term solution is to tap part of the growth in sales tax receipts from businesses such as hotels and motels, restaurants where alcohol is served, campgrounds and RV parks and other tourist attractions. A plan to finance the campaign over the next couple of years with a $2.50 tax on auto rentals was scrapped due to the anti-tax mood in the state capital, officials said.

The revised plan permits the development corporation to issue notes against future sales tax collections to pay for the advertising in the short term.

"We get a $3 return for every dollar invested (it's actually $2.86 per dollar, according to a state study), so we can make a solid case to investors that this is a good investment," said Rep. Dan Scripps, D-Leland, a sponsor of one of the bills.

Time is running out. This needs to be completed by January for a spring ad buy to capture the attention of people across the nation as they make plans for summer vacation. Rep. Dale Sheltrown indicates that they have a deal with the Senate. Given the outcome of past "deals" with Mike Bishop, let's hold our applause until it passes - but it's important to note how the Democrats are changing the framing of the issue.

"Investment". By jove, I think they've finally got it. And not only did we have Scripps and Sheltrown hit the correct notes here, Pam Byrnes indicated the same with the road funding issue.

Everyone wants the roads to be fixed. The easiest way to get the cash and secure the federal money that is just sitting there would be to boost the gas tax nine cents a gallon. That makes sense… except for that hated word: Tax. Republicans have sworn to oppose any tax, no matter how much sense it makes.

But there may be hope. Pam Byrnes, the House transportation committee chair, has a solution. She knows her colleagues are allergic to any talk of taxes, so, she intends to “present this as an investment in economic development.” After all, she added, “we are not going to be able to attract people to our state when our roads are crumbling and our bridges are being closed down.”

Throw in the job creation numbers related to both tourism and fixing the roads as well, and you have correctly framed the argument, and perhaps saved the state from further disaster. If not, the fault will lie with the Party of No - and everyone will know it. They are the ones who are insisting that we run this state like a "business" - and good business practices dictate that we make investments in our product.

Nothing can make up for the Lost Year of 2009, but we can start taking steps towards repairing the damage. Congratulations Democrats, you are on your way.