2007-05-19 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Launch of Pure Michigan Gives Tourism a Needed Boost
By George Weeks

In recent decades, the level of state government's commitment and effectiveness in promoting tourism has been as changeable as Michigan's weather.

There was welcome improvement last week as the state's Travel Michigan agency launched an $11.3 million radio-TV ad campaign that compellingly touts Michigan's natural, recreational, and historical attractions.

Among northern Michigan television images are Lake Superior's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, aerial shots along Lake Michigan of the Bay Harbor Golf Course south of Petoskey, and Mackinac Island, including Grand Hotel with its majestic porch overlooking the straits linking lakes Michigan and Huron.

(Ads are narrated by "Home Improvement" star Tim Allen, who grew up in Birmingham. See them online at www.michigan. org/travel; click the link "see our ads.")

The new campaign is an expansion of last year's $7.5 million "Pure Michigan" ad campaign that included a Big Snow Country ad featuring Gogebic County's Powderhorn, Blackjack's, and Indianhead ski resorts.

Michigan's initial pitch was limited to the Chicago, Indianapolis, and Cleveland markets. Now the reach includes Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Ontario.

As with the Big Snow Country campaign in which Upper Peninsula tourism interests contributed to the cost, Vice President George Zimmerman of Travel Michigan said the latest campaign has northern Michigan partners, including those in Traverse City, Grayling, and Sault Ste. Marie.

A coalition of such business groups - called Tourism Improving Michigan's Economy - wants the state to boost its annual promotional spending to $30 million. Even at that, Michigan would lag behind many other states, including the $49 million spent by neighboring Illinois.

Michigan's spending, according to Zimmerman, is 17th among states in tourism promotion - a substantial improvement from the 31st ranking of not long ago.

The coalition argues that for every dollar spent on promotion, more than $3 is generated in revenue for the state. Grand Hotel President Dan Musser correctly says aggressive promotion makes good sense "at a time the state needs jobs and revenue."

But with more powerful interests competing for dwindling dollars, it will be hard for the industry to get what it needs because Michigan has a horrendous budget crisis and has been agonizingly slow in resolving it.

Chief Judge Whitbeck

Whittles, Wisely

Eight months into the current fiscal year, leaders of the executive and legislative branches have yet to figure out how to deal with the projected deficit. But one pooh bah in the judicial branch acted decisively Friday to trim about $1 million.

Chief Judge Bill Whitbeck of the Michigan Court of Appeals announced shutdown of the court for eight days. It amounts to payless paydays for court employees, or, as the bureaucrats say, "required unpaid days off" around Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day, as well as August 10 and 13.

This will save about $60,000 a day, and should not be a problem for the public.

The furlough idea could work for some other agencies, as it did during budget crunch days early in the reign of Governor John Engler as administered by Engler-appointed State Employer Bill Whitbeck (appointed by Engler as appeals judge in 1997).

Since Whitbeck was named by the Michigan Supreme Court as its chief judge in 2001, the Michigan Court of Appeals has reduced by one-third the time it takes to deal with the 8,000 cases or so it gets a year.

One smart thing the appeals court has done under Whitbeck is hold sessions in courtrooms around the state, including Petoskey, Gaylord, and - last week - Marquette and Traverse City.

On the northern swing last week were Judges Bill Schuette of Midland (a former congressman, state senator, and Michigan ag director who once ran for the U.S. Senate and could well run for governor next time around), Peter O'Connell of Macomb County, and Alton Davis of Grayling, appointed by Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2005 to replace Judge Richard Griffin of Traverse City when Griffin became a federal appeals judge.

In response to the budget crunch, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Cliff Taylor had a well-timed good idea: All appellate judges should turn in their state-supplied cars. They did.

Taylor also had a bad idea: reduce the number of appeals judges. Strikes me that the 28- member Michigan Court of Appeals is one of the more functional elements of Michigan's judicial branch.

George Weeks retired last year after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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