Tennessee to pay for visitors’ airfare to promote tourism; governor gets backlash over source of funds

National

The “Tennessee on Me” campaign is causing quite a bit of controversy from Tennessee lawmakers, who called out Gov. Lee for funding the initiative with $2.5 million in taxpayer money.(Tennessee Department of Tourism Development)

(NEXSTAR) – Tennessee has launched a nationwide campaign to bring visitors back to the Volunteer State by paying for tourists’ airfare, but not everyone is on board with the idea.

Tennessee on Me, as the campaign is called, plans to provide 10,000 airfare vouchers — worth $250 each — toward Tennessee-bound flights on American, Delta, or Southwest Airlines. Those wishing to take advantage of the deal must also book a two-night stay at a participating hotel in one of four cities, including Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, or Nashville.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee promoted the campaign in a video shared to social media on July 4, which depicts he and country artist Brad Paisley writing a “Tennessee on Me” jingle.

“Tennessee is known around the world for its music, scenic beauty, and iconic attractions,” the republican governor added in a statement shared by the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development. “We’re ready for people to come back to Tennessee ‘on me,’ to enjoy live music all over the state created by our talented musicians and songwriters like Brad Paisley.”

The campaign is now causing quite a bit of controversy among Tennessee lawmakers, who called out Gov. Lee for funding the initiative with $2.5 million in taxpayer money.

In a statement released earlier this week, Lt. Governor Randy McNally was critical of the Tennessee on Me campaign, claiming he was “not briefed on the details” before its launch.  

“While the tourism industry in our major cities was hard hit during the COVID crisis, it has bounced back in record time. Under the circumstances, I would have preferred a more traditional approach to tourism development rather than direct transfers of Tennessee taxpayer money to mostly out-of-state recipients,” Lt. Gov. McNally wrote, in part.

“It is especially troubling that the promotion is limited to our major cities,” he added. “At least two of those cities exacerbated the economic crisis by instituting overly aggressive lockdown policies. It makes little sense to limit the promotion to those cities when our rural areas were hit as hard, if not harder, by the economic crisis than those cities.”

Some democrats, too, were disappointed in the allocation of taxpayer funds.

“Our schools aren’t better, our teachers aren’t given their pay raises, our bridges are still crumbling, our rural hospitals are still closing, so where’s that money going — the answer is corporate handouts and this is yet another corporate handout,” said Representative John Clemmons (D-Nashville), WKRN reported.

Others were upset that Lee was championing an idea to provide vouchers to out-of-state residents after recently opting to end additional federal unemployment benefits for out-of-work residents.

“So when he cut the extra unemployment money for people put out of work by the pandemic, this is where that money went instead?” wrote one Twitter user in response to Gov. Lee announcing the Tennessee on Me initiative. “Gross. Also disappointed that Brad [Paisley]’s camp decided to promote this.”

Tennessee resident Josh Hubbard, who was receiving the additional unemployment benefits and caring for his cancer-stricken wife, told WKRN he didn’t understand Gov. Lee’s motives.

“Lack of better terms, slap in the face,” said Hubbard after learning of the tourism initiative.

Those wishing to take advantage of the Tennessee on Me promotion can visit the campaign’s official website for further information.

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