State lawmakers voted Monday to spend $900,000 in tax dollars in a bid to convince Arizonans and others across the country to visit one of the state’s remaining “dude ranches.’’
“At one point in the 40s ... we had as many as 80 of them,’’ Kevin DeMenna, lobbyist for the Arizona Dude Ranch Association told members of the House Committee on Land, Agriculture and Rural Affairs. “They were a national draw.’’
Now, he put the number at closer to 14.
DeMenna said the ranches, like other forms of tourism, were hit hard by the pandemic.
“You can’t furlough the animals,’’ DeMenna said. “They’ve got to be fed.’’
Complicating matters, he said, is the dude ranches were a particular draw for international visitors. With that market pretty much dried up, DeMenna said a promotional campaign could help spur a domestic market.
DeMenna originally got Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, to sponsor HB 2169 asking for $3 million. But that got pared to a potentially more politically acceptable $900,000.
“We think that will manage to launch what we hope will be a coast-to-coast outreach to help to fill these ranches which, in turn, supports these local economies,’’ he told lawmakers.
DeMenna said there is precedent. For example, state lawmakers voted in 2018 to give $1.5 million a year in sales tax revenues for 30 years to the Arizona Office of Tourism to promote events at Phoenix International Raceway and money into promoting NASCAR at Phoenix International Raceway.
“We’d like to see a microcosm of that extended in this case to the guest ranch community,’’ DeMenna said.
But Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Cashion, whose district includes that raceway, said this isn’t exactly the same thing. He said the raceway owners first had to put up $100 million of their own money on improvements as a condition to get the cash.
Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Laveen, said there’s a “deep well of documentation’’ showing the economic impact on Arizona of a NASCAR race. And he asked DeMenna if he could prove the same thing about dude ranches.
The lobbyist conceded he does not now have such figures.
Rep. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, said she has several of these in her district and supports tourism but cannot vote for a specific carve-out of state dollars.
“I don’t like the idea of support for a specific segment,’’ Dalessandro said. Instead, she promised to work with state tourism officials to get them to use more of their existing resources to highlight the dude ranches.
The 7-4 vote now sends the measure to the House Appropriations Committee.