The state's popular "Pure Michigan" advertising campaign will be significantly scaled back unless state lawmakers quickly find a new way to pay for it.
The campaign promoting Michigan's travel destinations to a nationwide audience won't be able to make a summer advertising splash unless it gets substantially more money approved within the next few weeks, organizers say. Reduced advertising would be a significant blow to a Michigan tourism industry already struggling to weather the state's long-running economic slump.
"We need this resolved soon," said George Zimmermann of Travel Michigan, the agency that created and launched the Pure Michigan campaign. "We need to be on the air in March. And you've got to buy it before you're on the air, so we need a little bit of lead time to make the buys."
The tourism promotion's budget reached a high of $30 million in the most recently completed fiscal year. That allowed the campaign to go national for the first time, promoting the state's golf courses, beaches, lakes and other destinations to an estimated 60 million people on cable TV.
But Pure Michigan has only $5.4 million for the fiscal year that started in October because of the state's budget problems. Lawmakers are working on a long-term funding plan but haven't agreed on a solution.
The Democrat-led Michigan House passed bills in December that would fund the campaign by using a portion of the sales and use taxes collected on some tourism-oriented goods and services. But that plan may not work — especially in the short run — because it's based largely on growth in those tax collections.
There's no guarantee tax revenues would grow. Some tax revenues have dropped the past few years because of the poor economy in Michigan, which had the nation's highest unemployment rate at 14.7 percent in November.
"We certainly believe that over time there will be increases as the economy rebounds," Zimmermann said. "The question is how soon. There is a lot discussion going on right now about that."
The House originally hoped to boost tourism funding by adding a $2.50 per day assessment on cars rented at airports. But that measure hasn't passed the House and likely won't be part of the final deal.
Taking the money from general sales tax revenue or other existing sources also raises problems. The state government faces a $1.6 billion shortfall in the fiscal year starting next October and pressure to fund other programs — including education, health care and public safety — may make it hard for tourism to get a bigger slice.
"We're trying to come up with an equitable, bipartisan solution," said state Sen. Jason Allen, a Republican from Traverse City. "The question is with us being short the $1.6 billion in the budget, how do we come up with a model that's sustainable?"