This week, Philadelphia plays host to the National Conference of State Legislatures conference. No Pennsylvania legislators have been able to attend the gathering because they’re needed in Harrisburg for potential votes on a state budget that’s now three weeks overdue.
But despite this fact, Pennsylvania taxpayers are putting up $1 million for the cost of the meeting. Defenders of this cost in the administration and legislature claim that this is the chance for Pennsylvania to show itself off and the boost in tourism it will realize from the event makes the $1 million investment worthwhile. (One defender even comments that taxpayers saved because the Philadelphia Convention Center didn’t charge for hosting the event in the facility taxpayers paid to build.)
This is misguided economics. Taxpayer funding to promote tourism is not a core function of government, and has not improved Pennsylvaniaâ€™s economic climate. The so-called “multiplier effect” of spending taxpayer dollars to attract visitor fails to account for the opportunity cost – that is, that money could have been spent elsewhere, or taxes could have beend reduced by that amount. And the idea that tourism would not occur, or Philadelphia could not attract a conference of legislators, without taxpayer funding is absurd.