AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would boost tourism marketing in Maine’s small towns could be headed for enactment after positive votes in the House and Senate.
The bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, and co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, is arguably minor in scope. It would earmark $10,000 per year for tourism grants for communities with fewer than 7,000 residents but supporters argued that it could make an outsized difference for rural Maine towns and organizations that have little or no money to promote events.
“It is extremely important that we prioritize communities of 7,000 or less,” Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, said Tuesday during Senate debate.
Speaking against the proposal, Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, said Maine’s current tourism marketing strategy should not be disrupted.
“Tourism marketing dollars are precious and they’re expended based on extensive research,” Volk said. “Fracturing off those dollars and statutorily directing when and how they should be spent is really bad precedent and will likely reduce the impact of our overall marketing strategy.”
The $10,000 proposed for the new program would be siphoned from the existing Maine Tourism Marketing Promotion Fund, in which 5 percent of all meals and lodging taxes is deposited.
Diane Johanson, who testified on the bill earlier this year on behalf of the Maine Tourism Association, said competitive grant programs, such as the Tourism Enterprise Grant program, already exist.
“We do not see the need to create a new program for the Maine Office of Tourism to oversee that provides what we consider duplicative efforts,” Johanson said.
A motion to kill the bill died 19-16 Tuesday in the Senate.
The bill passed 81-63 in the House last week but faces further votes in both chambers before it is forwarded to Gov. Paul LePage for consideration. If LePage vetoes the bill, it would need more support than it currently has in order to survive.
“The benefits of the small investments we make in rural community events are felt by so many businesses and serve to greatly improve community pride,” said Herbig after Tuesday’s Senate vote. “We should empower more rural Maine communities to honor their heritage and reinvent themselves with an eye toward attracting tourism and strengthening economic growth.”