DENVER - Colorado's tourism-advertising program is caught in a game of chicken between the House and Senate.
Senators including Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, want to shield tourism from the budget cuts affecting most parts of the state government. They voted for a $20.8 million advertising budget Thursday.
But House members voted the next day to stick with their $15.8 million plan, nearly one-quarter less than the Senate's plan. If the two chambers can't agree, then tourism will get no funding.
The program remained in limbo Monday.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, said he plans to ask senators to accept the lower number from the House. A vote could come as early as today.
Tourism advocates say the advertising money is needed to lure visitors to Colorado.
"These are the dollars the private sector is going to build on and generate money for the state," said Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, during last week's debate.
Local tourism promoters say the statewide program helps them to advertise the Four Corners in national and international publications they couldn't afford on their own.
Opponents, though, argued that the state has to cut back during the recession.
"Government has certain roles and principles in protecting life, safety and welfare. Advertising is not one of those functions," said Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield.
Isgar was among the Western Slope senators who revived tourism funding in 2006 after more than a decade of very low budgets.
The money comes from taxes on Front Range casinos. But the gambling money automatically drops to nothing during a recession unless the Legislature passes a bill to restore it.
Gov. Bill Ritter had proposed keeping $10 million of the about $20 million budget. But members of the Joint Budget Committee opted for almost $6 million above Ritter's request. The full Senate upped the ante to $20.8 million, but the House knocked it back down to $15.8 million.
The tourism bill, Senate Bill 217, is one of the last parts of the Legislature's $600 million budget-balancing package. It already has been to a conference committee, where the members went with the House's lower number. But a bipartisan Senate majority voted 28-7 last week to ask for a second conference committee.
However, the House sponsor, Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, convinced House members to stick to their original plan. He essentially told the Senate: Take the $15.8 million, or the bill dies and tourism gets nothing.
"We're hopeful that this actually will be adopted and the Senate antics will stop," Ferrandino said.
The House vote was 49-12 to stay with the lower budget. Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, voted to stick with the House position. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, voted against Ferrandino's motion.
Isgar, though, said cutting back the program will hurt in the future.
"We can't afford to give up next year's revenues to save a few dollars today," he said.