Senate creates Department of Tourism

By Steve Wilson
March 13, 2020

The Mississippi Senate voted Tuesday to create a new state agency to promote tourism.

Senate Bill 2838, authored by Sen. John Polk (R-Hattiesburg), would create a Department of Tourism and remove responsibility for the tourism promotion from the existing Mississippi Development Authority.

The bill would create a new agency, with a seven-member governing board with four members appointed by the governor and three by the lieutenant governor. The salary of the executive director appointed by the board would be set by the board. 

It would also create a grant program for matching funds to finance, promote, and advertise local tourist attractions.

The bill was assigned by Senate leadership to the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, which is chaired by Polk. It bypassed the Tourism Committee chaired by Sen. Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona) and she was one of six no votes when it passed the Senate.

The bill is now in the hands of the House, where it has yet to receive a committee assignment.

SB 2838 also has some unrelated components that include one dealing with providing sales tax revenue to the Capitol Complex Improvement District in Jackson and another would deal with a tax incremental financing of a $10 million redevelopment project on the coast in Jackson County.

The Mississippi Development Authority has asked for more than $6 million for tourism promotion in its budget request for fiscal 2021. 

That isn’t all taxpayers are doing for tourism promotion.

Last year, then-Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law SB 2193, which created a tourism advisory board and redirected three percent of the state’s sales tax revenues from hotels and restaurants into a special fund to help with tourism promotion.

Taxpayer-funded tourism promotion doesn’t always pay off. According to a 2016 study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, researchers found only a small impact nationwide from taxpayer funded tourism promotion on the hotel industry, no impact on recreation and amusements, and a miniscule one on arts and entertainment. 

This was in marked contrast to the wildly optimistic numbers released by Michigan state officials on how taxpayer spending impacted tourism in the state.

They used data from 48 states over a 39-year period.


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