Illinois Threatens to Cut 'Choose Chicago' Funding

One of the nation's largest convention and visitors bureaus, Choose Chicago, is in crisis, it reported last week: Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (pictured) has put the organization on the chopping block as he considers radical cuts to the state's FY2016 budget.

Rauner, a Republican, has been in a stalemate with his state's Democratic legislature for the past month as both parties consider how to solve a $4 billion budget shortfall. Democrats want Rauner to address the issue with a tax increase that would fill the budget gap without sacrificing critical government services, such as Medicaid. The governor, however, won't do so without concessions from Democrats allowing him to weaken the influence of labor unions in Illinois. Without an agreement today, the state's current budget will expire, leaving Choose Chicago without state funding.

"In recent weeks, the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Rauner have been in disagreement on the state's budget plan … Yesterday, the governor vetoed the budget which means that barring quick action before the June 30 budget deadline, Choose Chicago will no longer receive statutorily mandated funding from the state's hotel tax," Choose Chicago President and CEO Don Welsh reported in an "action alert" sent to supporters last week, urging them to contact state lawmakers. "This is our largest single source of revenue representing 40 percent of our annual operating budget. It devastates Choose Chicago for no immediate or long-term positive result on the state budget. Choose Chicago will lose more than $7.2 million in budgeted revenues through December of this year and well over $12 million over the next 12 months.

"Approximately half of every tourism dollar spent in the state is spent in Chicago. To cut an organization that is a driving force for the city and state's economic recovery is irresponsible and unwarranted."

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow echoed Welsh's sentiment.

"The travel community nationwide is deeply alarmed and disappointed that the budget impasse in [Illinois] has resulted in the threatening of funding for Choose Chicago, the tourism marketing organization whose positive contributions to the economies and tax bases of both Chicago and the state of Illinois are absolutely beyond question. Choose Chicago is the MVP of ROI -- letting its funding lapse now would be like trading Jordan after the Bulls' first championship," Dow said in a statement. "Fiscal politics are challenging at every level of government, but we implore Gov. Rauner and the state's legislative leaders not to make the mistake of confusing spending with investment. Promoting Chicago as a destination has paid undeniable fiscal and economic dividends for the city and state, and we have seen over and over again that governments which have interrupted funding for tourism marketing have paid an enormous price in the hyper-competitive national and global travel market.

"A year ago, as we celebrated an enormously successful travel trade show in Chicago that was projected to generate $1.7 billion over the next three years for the city, I was extolling Illinois as a place that 'gets it' in terms of embracing travel as a powerful economic driver. We urge the governor and legislature to redouble their efforts to find a budgetary path forward that sustains Choose Chicago, the curtailing of which would only worsen the state's fiscal dire straits."

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