Controversy still swirls over $1 million fund subsidizing ski industryThe state will issue in November the first payments of a controversial $1 million subsidy for Utah ski resorts approved in the waning hours of the 1990 Legislature.

Some members of the Legislature's Economic Development Interim Committee took issue this week with the announcement that capital investment funds totaling $493,769 will be issued to four resorts.Rep. David Jones, D-Salt Lake, said the Legislature was foolish to subsidize an activity that is not a growth industry. "It's not the industry that is going to build the future of this state," he said.

The legislation created a fund from which Utah ski resorts could draw if they purchase new snowmaking or grooming equipment or install new lifts. O. William Asplund, assistant director of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, said resorts may apply for funding anytime before the bill sunsets in 1992.

Although eight months have passed since the Legislature funded the bill, some lawmakers still question if the industry's needs supersede those of social programs that went unfunded.

Others are angry about the process by which the funding was obtained, particularly when the proposal was killed in a budget subcommittee. "As an appropriation committee, it didn't even make our list," said Sen. Richard Tempest, R-Salt Lake, and co-chairman of the interim committee.

Other legislators said the $1 million fund was a sound investment in Utah's ski industry, which competes with Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming for tourism dollars.

In 1986, Colorado resorts opened on Thanksgiving Day. Utah resorts, plagued by drought and a lack of snowmaking equipment, didn't open until Jan. 3. That cost Utah millions of tourism dollars, said Sen. Lane Beattie, R-Bountiful.

The Utah Ski Association estimates that the ski industry has invested more than $20 million in improvements since the subsidy legislation was approved in 1989 and funded in 1990.

"Investments made by Utah ski areas in 1989 prevented a statewide disaster during this fourth drought year in a row and, in fact, brought the state over $3 million in tax revenue that would have been lost if we compare 1989-90 to 1987-88 (a comparable, late starting, low snow year)," Bob Bailey, executive director of the ski association, wrote in a letter to "industry supporters."

Yet, Jones said he wonders if the money spent on improvements to the Utah ski industry is the best investment in the state's economic future. "My only question is, `Is it the best investment we could have made? Are there other industries that could make the same claims?' " Jones said.

Rep. Joanne Milner, D-Salt Lake, agreed, "I think our priorities were really askew."

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(Additional information)

Investment incentives

Ski resorts due capital investment incentives in November

Beaver Mountain $148,394

Brian Head $ 34,750

Park City $263,541

Solitude $ 47,084

Total $493,769

Remaining funds $506,231

Source: Utah State Tax Commission