Governor was wrong to veto tourism bill

Tourism is a vital part of the state’s economy and accounts for a significant share of its employment.

On that, I think we can all agree.

Regrettably, Gov. John Hickenlooper this month opted to kneecap tourism by vetoing legislation that would have expanded a tax-incentives program for tourism projects in Estes Park and five other locations around the state.

The proposed legislation, according to the governor’s line of thinking, didn’t jibe with the intent of the 2009 Regional Tourism Act.

The Estes Park project calls for a $50 million year-round ski and recreational area near the historic Elkhorn Lodge. Whether it goes forward any time soon is now very much up in the air.

Here’s what the governor wrote in his veto letter to lawmakers:

“Any RTA project should bring new tourists from out of state that would not otherwise visit Colorado or the state’s existing venues. The RTA does not contemplate, however, projects that are likely to serve only the interests of a particular community.”

Of course, that makes good sense, but I think the governor made a mistake.

The tourism industry, like any other, gathers as much data as it can about its customers so that it can do a better job of finding new and repeat business.

It’s just silly to suggest that the developers of these projects were hinging their fortunes on their ability to cannibalize other destinations.

It’s also important to note that the vetoed legislation wouldn’t have changed the intent of the RTA. It merely would have allowed six projects to apply for up to $50 million in tax-increment financing in one year, rather than allowing just two a year.

Not incidentally, the legislation would have merely given the state’s Economic Development Commission the authority to choose all six in one year. In other words, any project that didn’t measure up to the expectations of the commission would not have been granted a TIF.

Some who welcomed the veto expressed concern about depleting the state’s economic developments tools all at once. But what those voices overlook is the fairly easy solution of granting another TIF. After all, TIFs don’t really cost taxpayers anything, not in the long term. They merely allow developers to hold onto incremental tax revenues derived from their projects.

Colorado, like the rest of the nation, is still very much climbing out of the recession.

The job-creation opportunities that these projects represented were too good to let slip away.

If there was any rolling of the dice, the odds favored Colorado tourism as a whole. It was a risk worth taking, and the governor’s veto was an unfortunate miscalculation.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3142 or agreenberg@ncbr.com

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