CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The biennium budget amendment talks continued to spark debate well into the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 19, following a similar course as their morning talks.
One standout debate occurred when Sweetwater County Sen. Tom James suggested an amendment, the 23rd of 44 slated on the docket, that would severely cut funding to the Wyoming Office of Tourism by more than $26 million, which could even defund the department.
Tourism was up nearly 7% in 2018, according to information released by the tourism office last year.
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James’ argument was that the private sector should invest in tourism instead, a sentiment shared by Sen. Bo Biteman.
“The party’s over, guys,” he told the Senate on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m going to tell you something surprising, but tourism existed before this department did. It’s like spending more money on education. Is throwing more money at the schools improving our test scores?”
However many of the senators didn’t agree with Biteman and James and made sure to let their opinions be known before voting on the amendment.
While Sen. Charles Scott applauded James for bringing this amendment before the Senate, causing the 30 senators to take a hard look at cuts that will likely have to be made during a future legislative session, he wasn’t supportive of it.
“We’re going to run out of money,” Scott said. “This is a preview of the kind of amendment we’re going to have to vote yes to if we don’t get our spending under control. I’m going to vote against the amendment because I think it’s premature, but the senator has done a great service by bringing it to us.”
Other senators who weighed in on the bill agreed with Scott that a department budget cut will likely come up in the future, especially if spending isn’t curbed, but that since the department helps bring in $200 million in tax revenue, now wasn’t the time. Biteman argued that the increased tax revenue couldn’t necessarily be correlated with the department, but suggested the strong economy contributed to tourism.
Sen. Mike Gierau touted the tourism office, noting that it’s helped him advertise and keep him in business for more than 40 years.
“People arguing for this amendment don’t know how things were before tourism became so world-class in Wyoming,” he said. “Those of us who were there know, though.”
The impassioned rebuttals to James’ amendment caused the Sweetwater County senator to ultimately withdraw it before the Senate could vote.
“This has been very eye-opening, thank you for this,” he told the senators.