One year ago – almost to the day – I penned a column reminding everyone that transportation is key to our state’s vibrant tourism industry. Tourism is one of three major economic pillars that drive our state’s economy along with agriculture and manufacturing.
Tourism brings in tax dollars from visitors around the globe while also providing our citizens with high-quality vacation opportunities, a multitude of recreation choices and entertainment options too many to count.
Summer is upon us, and “tourism season” is in full swing. Tourism in Wisconsin generates an astounding $19.3 billion dollars in business sales and supports more than 190,000 direct and indirect jobs. And remember: The $1.5 billion in state and local taxes generated by tourist spending in Wisconsin each year lightens the household tax burden by an average of $640 to maintain current levels of service.
Wisconsin welcomes tourists with open arms.
A clear majority of Wisconsin tourists DRIVE to their final destinations. Driving cars, trucks, campers, motor homes and hauling boats, ATVs and all sorts of fun. These tourists gas up while they are in our state. I’ve yet to hear a complaint about the gas tax from any of our customers, but I regularly hear about the poor condition of our roads and bridges.
I have been in the hospitality industry my entire professional career. I am proud to have served as Chairman of the Governor’s Council on Tourism for more than 13 years.
“Badger State Hospitality” is legendary and it continues to draw more and more visitors every year.
This time last year our governor and lawmakers were grappling with how to address Wisconsin’s long-term transportation funding shortfall.
Unfortunately, the decision to ignore the needs of our roads and bridges and instead continue to kick the funding can down the road prevailed.
The budget that passed last fall did not address our transportation-funding shortfall.
It did not address the deterioration of our state and local roads.
It did not address the delays in our previously approved projects.
Those things never changed.
In order to grow our economy, tax revenues and job opportunities we need to invest in and build up Wisconsin.
Keep in mind visitors to our tourism areas have choices; they don’t have to come to Wisconsin.
They can choose to go anywhere.
So why give them the choice of avoiding Wisconsin due to extended road projects that cause them to sit in traffic longer, dodge orange barrels and lose precious vacation time?
If Wisconsin is truly “open for business” then policymakers and the governor must develop a bipartisan long-term transportation funding solution so tourists aren’t detoured to destinations in other states because of our poor road conditions.
It is an election year so politicians and candidates are worried about committing themselves to a specific long-term solution for fear it will hurt them this fall.
That’s too bad.
During the past year, nearly every newspaper in Wisconsin has editorialized in favor of finding a bipartisan long-term solution to address our transportation needs.
Now is the time for leadership to address our crumbling infrastructure. Transportation funding will likely be a key issue in the gubernatorial and legislative elections this fall.
Let’s hope voters select candidates who are willing to fix this problem.
Our roads and bridges cannot wait any longer.
Diehl has been a statewide leader in the tourism industry for more than 50 years. He co-owns Tommy Bartlett Inc. in the Wisconsin Dells with his wife, Margaret.
He also serves as the president of DRIVE – Devote Resources, Invest for a Vibrant Economy – www.wisconsindrive.com