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Legislators cool to earmarking some sales tax funds for tourism


A Schaefer administration-backed bill that would channel a portion of sales tax increases to tourism promotion received a cool reception yesterday from state legislators who don't want their hands tied in future spending.

As soon as the proposal hit the table, even supporters were backing away, saying they are open to other plans that would boost spending on tourism.

"It's a stupid way for government to go," said state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore. "If you start dedicating funds, who is going to pay for the have-nots?"

Mr. Lapides was one of the more outspoken critics of the bills, which were presented yesterday in meetings of the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee and a joint meeting of the Senate's Finance and Budget and Taxation committees.

While many of the delegates and senators were sympathetic to more money for tourism promotion, they worried about setting a bad precedent for other spending. "How do we say no to the other groups?" asked Del. Theodore Levin, D-Baltimore County.

Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the Department of Economic and Employment Development, defended the arrangement,saying the extra money would generate more tourism and additional tax revenues. But he also stressed that the plan was negotiable.

"If there are other ways to do it, we are wide open," Mr. Wasserman said.

The push for more money comes after years in which Maryland lagged behind Virginia and Pennsylvania in tourism promotion. While Maryland spends $5 million a year for tourism, Virginia spends $10.1 million and Pennsylvania spends $12 million. While the neighboring states tout themselves frequently on the airwaves, Maryland spends nothing on television advertisements.

The idea of the dedicated fund came from the Maryland Tourism Development Board, a 15-member committee mandated by last year's General Assembly.

Under the formula, sales tax increases of more than 4 percent for certain tourism-related businesses would be split between DTC general funds and the account to promote tourism. If the increase was 4 percent or less, no additional money would go to tourism promotion.

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