A noon power outage left the area surrounding a hotel on Baton Rouge’s Constitution Avenue in the dark. But it didn’t stop a forum featuring four candidates for lieutenant governor from proceeding Wednesday.
A quickly arranged emergency generator provided enough power to run a spotlight and microphones, and the candidates proceeded.
The three Republicans, Billy Nungesser, John Young and Elbert Guillory, and Democrat Kip Holden all promised to lobby for additional tourism promotion dollars and to work to protect dedicated marketing funds from being raided.
The tourism budget is funded by 0.003 of every penny of state sales tax collections. It raises about $23 million every year.
They also praised Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s Culture, Recreation and Tourism Department, each saying they don’t anticipate any wholesale change in personnel.
The candidates answered questions at Louisiana’s annual Tourism Summit about their positions on issues impacting the industry, which generated $836 million in revenues for the state last year.
Young said his priorities are “funding, funding, funding.” The Jefferson Parish president also said a concerted effort must be made to stop money dedicated for tourism marketing from being diverted to other programs and major, special events.
“We need to look at crime and its effect on tourism in Louisiana,” especially in New Orleans and the French Quarter, Young said. “If we don’t, we are going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” he said.
Nungesser, former Plaquemines Parish president, said all the cuts to the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Department need to be restored. “If we can’t double the tourism budget, I’m not doing my job,” Nungesser said.
Improvements need to be made to historic sites and state parks so visitors will have a good experience. Local needs should be identified by local people, he said. “We have to go to the local level and bring local elected officials together with legislators” to push the case for tourism, he said.
“When you look at the cuts that have been made in tourism in this state, shame on this state,” Holden said.
The Baton Rouge mayor-president said tourism promotion dollars generate millions upon millions of revenues for the state.
Holden said those running for office this fall should be publicly asked their stance on tourism funding and what they are going to do about.
“Get them on the record,” he said. “We can hold their feet to the fire.”
In tourism efforts, Holden said “we have to talk about the whole state” and consider public-private partnerships to help keep state assets operating.
Guillory, a state senator from Opelousas, said cuts must be restored and funds destined for tourism marketing protected. “We need to inject even more passion into Louisiana,” he said.
The candidates differed some on tourism marketing dollars being taken to help underwrite special events — a practice that Dardenne and tourism interests have complained about for years. Money has been diverted to national sporting events, the Essence Festival, Bayou Country Superfest and the like.
Holden said each “pass-through” should be looked at individually because events like Baton Rouge’s Bayou Country Superfest generate business and tourism dollars. He said the events need to be looked at based on whether they have “any return value.”
Guillory said the use of the dollars for nonmarketing “is simply a part of the budget process.”
If events are worthy of state support, Young said, extra dollars should be appropriated by the state. “This money is for tourism and marketing. Stop the pass-throughs,” he said.
Nungesser said a special fund needs to be established from which money would be appropriated for special events. And, he said, every area of the state needs to benefit from the fund.