A billboard posted on Utah Transit Authority buses enticing Utahns to "Ski the Other Alta - Alta, Wyoming" is receiving a chilly reception.
"It's similar to a state car having a bumper sticker advertising Disneyland," House Speaker Nolan Karras, R-Roy, told the Deseret News.UTA officials, in response, ask whether it would be fair for Utah to prohibit out-of-state advertisements while other states accept billboards touting Utah's tourist attractions. The advertising dollars keep UTA bus fares among the lowest in the nation, they say.
Lawmakers expressed their concern about the billboard that promotes economic development outside Utah in a letter scolding tax-subsidized UTA. The letter, signed by the leaders of the House of Representatives, says, "This is in direct competition with Utah business interests, i.e., tourism and the skiing industry."
The legislators asked UTA General Manager John Pingree why - at a time when tax dollars are being spent to promote Utah industry - is UTA promoting another state's economy? They asked UTA to review its advertisement policies.
Rep. Dionne Halverson, D-Ogden, initiated the letter campaign.
After a thorough review of policies by the UTA governing board, the citizen committee has unanimously affirmed its current policy. In a letter to Karras, Pingree said that out-of-state advertisement will continue to be accepted based on these reasons:
-Because Utah spends $2,627,800 of taxpayer's money for advertising tourism outside our state, no offense should be taken if UTA accepts its share of $4,800 of ad revenues spent by a Wyoming ski resort.
-UTA's written advertising policy is non-discriminatory and permits and encourages the free expression of ideas as protected by the First Amendment.
-Bus advertising revenues should be maximized as a means of generating outside income to offset operating cost for the benefit of taxpayers.
-The UTA board has never adopted a policy that would limit bus advertising to Utah-owned companies. "Such a policy, we believe, is contrary to law and would be objectionable to most Utahns."
-Alta resort officials are not offended by the billboard because Alta, Utah, is mentioned in the ad as frequently as Alta, Wyoming.
"Since Utah ski resorts spend thousands of dollars in advertising in other states, they are not troubled by another out-of-state ski resort, even though a competitor, spending money in Utah," Pingree states.
In politely worded return volley, Pingree invited legislators to spend some of the $435,000 allocated for in-state promotion on in-state UTA bus billboards.
"If I had my druthers," said Karras, "I would only have in-state promotions on UTA buses. But I do understand UTA's point of view."
Lawmakers accomplished their objective by raising the question of the appropriate use of tax money.