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October 3, 2013 | By | Posted in Legislature

PA House creates new tourism agency, authorizes $15M in tax giveaways

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

WHAT'S IN A SLOGAN?: Once upon a time, PA's slogan was "America Starts Here." It used to be "Memories Last a Lifetime." Today, it's "You've Got a Friend in Pennsylvania."

WHAT’S IN A SLOGAN?: Once upon a time, PA’s slogan was “America Starts Here.” It used to be “Memories Last a Lifetime.” Today, it’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.”

HARRISBURG — It took less than 90 seconds for the House of Representatives to decide to create a new state commission and authorize $15 million in tax credits devoted to improving Pennsylvania’s brand and tourism.

The House voted 189-6 just after noon Tuesday to create the Pennsylvania Tourism Commission, and 194-1 to establish a tax credit for businesses who give money to support the commission’s fund. The bills passed without floor debate, and sponsor House Tourism Chairman Jerry Stern, R-Blair, said he was encouraged by the bipartisan support.

Stern said he hopes to see more of a public-private partnership approach to tourism, a $37 billion industry in Pennsylvania. He said a commission could provide continuity that an administration-managed tourism package can’t.

Pennsylvania has had four tourism themes in as many governors, he said.

“It’s a bill that hopefully will move Pennsylvania forward, and take some of the bureaucracy out of things,” he said.

Not all members saw it Stern’s way. At least two of the six “no” votes on the commission’s creation took into consideration the expansion of government.  Rep. Steve Bloom, R-Cumberland, told PA Independent his vote against the measure represents his opposition to “another new permanent bureaucracy, no matter how well-intentioned.”

Another member who opposed the measure, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, said the bill expanded bureaucracy.

“I think we have enough commissions,” he said.

Stern disagrees his proposal expands government, giving that commission members include private sector expertise.

“That argument doesn’t fly, that you’re creating more government,” he said. “Actually, you’re getting the government out of this equation and turning it over to the experts in the field.”

The commission will be an 11-member board of governor appointees. Members would come from the private sector, and from tourism promotional agencies and associations for restaurant, lodging and retail industries, among others.

Members wouldn’t get a salary but could be reimbursed for expenses. Stern said it’s likely the commission would have a small staff. DCED has five employees dedicated to tourism right now.

A fiscal note, created when the House Appropriations Committee took up the bill, admits “the annual operating costs for this newly established Commission are unknown at this point.”

The commission is charged with spending up to $3 million from the Department of Community and Economic Development’s marketing budget.

On top of that, the commission could have up to $15 million from a new tax credit program as outlined in HB 1216. The tax credit allows businesses to deduct up to 100 percent of their donation to the PA Tourism Commission against their personal income tax, corporate net income tax or capital stock and franchise tax.

Carolyn Boser Newhouse, deputy secretary of innovation and investment in the Department of Community and Economic Development, said the State Tourism Office is already tapping into the private sector for partnerships, through the Pennsylvania Tourism Partnerships.

The office awards matching grants for private sector companies that step forward to help promote a certain region or attraction, like wildlife or retail.

“We have the private sector and the tourism industry at the table with us, and supportive of us,” she said.

Newhouse said it’s “a good solution” under the budget of $3 million. The office also runs VisitPA.com. Other states, like Michigan, spend $30 million for their branding efforts, she said.

Though Newhouse wouldn’t comment on what the Legislature’s plans might mean for DCED’s tourism arm in the long run, she pointed out that a new tax credit means lost revenue.

“We’re trying to be fiscally responsible,” she said. “We recognize the challenges ahead, so let’s look for different solutions other than more tax credits.”

Contact Melissa Daniels at melissa@paindependent.com

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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