Park City businesses cast keen eye on 2016 Utah state Legislature
The 2016 Utah state Legislature has kicked into full gear, and so has the Park City Chamber/Bureau.
Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Chamber/Bureau, said the organization closely follows the legislative proceedings each year. However, it typically makes its voice heard only to protect the interests of local businesses.
"I’d have to say that if you look at our role, we play defense more than we play offense," he said. "I think we’re very supportive of things that are important to our community like education initiatives. But we’re not out there advocating in terms of introducing ideas for the Legislature. Defense is more of our philosophy."
One of the biggest areas of concern this year is the amount of money that will be set aside for the state’s Tourism Marketing Performance Fund, which is used, in part, to supplement the tourism marketing efforts of several municipalities across the state. The Chamber/Bureau relies on a large chunk of money from that fund to help pay for the television advertisements it runs throughout the country, as well as for international marketing, Malone said. In 2014, for instance, the Chamber/Bureau received $275,000.
But the budget proposal Governor Gary Herbert released in December didn’t include a $3 million boost to the fund that many in the tourism industry were expecting. Since the fund’s inception in 2005, increases have been tied to the amount of tax revenue the tourism industry has brought into the state. If the tax revenue has met a certain threshold, more money has been poured into the fund.
But despite tax growth from tourism surpassing the threshold last year, at 8.9 percent, Herbert’s proposal did not include a bump to the fund. It remained set at $18 million, rather than the $21 million the tourism industry was hoping for.
Malone said the fund is stretched thin because several counties tap into it, meaning a $3 million bump is important for each municipality that relies on the money; it could mean tens of thousands of dollars for Park City.
"I think what people in the industry look at as the most important thing is that there has been a formula," he said. "And the governor’s budget, while it’s very generous, ignores the formula. We’re not trying to be unappreciative, and we recognize the constraints of the budgeting process the governor has, but it is that — his budget, and not the Legislature’s. So it will be interesting to see what happens."
Potential changes to the liquor laws are another area the Chamber/Bureau closely monitors. One such bill, H.B. 76, sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell (R-Heber), could do away with Utah’s infamous Zion curtain, but only for restaurants that have separate bar areas off-limits to minors. The Zion curtain rule mandates that restaurants prepare alcoholic drinks behind partitions, out of sight from customers, a requirement many say makes Utah out of step with the rest of the country.
Malone said fostering a perception of hospitality regarding liquor laws is important to Park City, but Powell’s bill may not go far enough in the minds of some restaurateurs. And he is uncertain how warmly the bill will be received in an election year.
"I don’t know how our members feel about that," he said. "In many respects, a lot of people I think would much rather see a broader solution to the Zion curtain, as opposed to a piecemeal one. We applaud (Powell) for his efforts in that, though. But history tells us that election years aren’t the best years to address liquor, so we’re not sure where that one is going to end up."
Other bills the Chamber/Bureau will keep an eye on include one that would put an end to Utah’s participation in daylight saving time, which could affect various Park City businesses in different ways, and one that loosens licensing requirements for home businesses. Malone said the worry there is that it may become easier for nightly rental companies such as Airbnb and VRBO to operate in certain Park City neighborhoods.
"We do have places where people don’t do nightly rentals," he said. "And I think there’s a concern on the part of lodging folks in terms of having a level playing field. loosening those business licenses, does it proliferate nightly rental companies in neighborhoods?"
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Another ski season is in the books, and much to the relief of the restaurant industry, the outlook, like the weather, is looking sunny.