HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The three candidates for Connecticut governor told an appreciative crowd of tourism industry executives and workers Wednesday that state government is shortsighted and fails to adequately promote Connecticut’s attractions.
Republican Tom Foley, Democrat Dan Malloy and independent candidate Tom Marsh told a standing room-only crowd at the Connecticut Convention Center, which opened in 2005 to bring convention and business dollars to Hartford, that government can do a better job promoting the state’s arts, beaches, museums, historic attractions and other sites.
Lawmakers and Gov. M. Jodi Rell, seeking to close a budget deficit, cut in half state grants for culture, arts and tourism programs to about $3.2 million. The tourism marketing budget was slashed from $4.3 million to $1, just enough to leave the account open, said Karen Senich, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.
The three candidates said the cuts are leading to reduced tourist dollars spent in Connecticut.
“The idea that we have a state government that has put exactly $1 into promoting state tourism is an embarrassment to me as a resident of Connecticut,” Malloy said.
He repeated his promise, initially made in July, to spend at least $15 million to market the state.
Foley upped the ante. “If Dannel is for 15 million, I’m for 15 and a quarter million,” he said.
The Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism says those sectors, which include film and TV production and historic preservation, account for more than $14 billion in economic activity and 170,000 jobs annually.
Foley hinted that if elected, he will personally pitch for the state in advertising.
“I think you may notice we even see ads running here in Connecticut featuring the governor of Michigan trying to get businesses and tourists to come to Michigan so it’s very much and a very appropriate role for the chief executive officer of the state to be personally promoting tourism,” he said.
Marsh said Connecticut lacks leadership in executing tourism marketing plans, criticizing across-the-board cuts that fail to set spending priorities.
“It’s not because we don’t have a plan. It’s because we don’t have a willingness to follow through,” he said.
Malloy and Foley clashed over Malloy’s promise to cut the cost of government with a reorganization.
“You also say you’ll consolidate or eliminate 30 percent of the state agencies. I hope that tourism isn’t one of them,” Foley said.
“I put out a policy months ago and you’re just coming to the show today,” Malloy replied.