Lake Expo: Tour of Missouri funding spared from Senate committee budget cuts

From the Lake Expo:

Organizers of the 2010 Tour of Missouri are breathing a sigh of relief after funding for the race survived cuts in the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee this week.

The Senate committee left intact a line-item allowing for about $1 million in funding for the race that was added to the Missouri House of Representatives budget plan by Rep. Alan Icet approved at the end of March. The budget will go to the full Senate next week. It must then be reconciled with the House version. Lawmakers, who cut about $500 million from the state's 2011 budget, must pass a final version by May 7.

Missouri Bicycle Racing Association President Mike Weiss, who serves as chairman of the race's organizing committee, said it appeared the funding had survived the process intact but said it would not move on finalizing host cities for the race. Sedalia is one of a number of Missouri cities that have responded to organizers with interest in hosting part of the race. Sedalia was the sight of an Individual Time Trial last year.

"It appears the state has achieved their goal of reducing $500 million from the budget without having to cut our funding. We are pleased that legislators see the value of the race," Weiss said.

The funding line-item added by Icet, a Wildwood Republican who serves as the House budget chairman, went counter to a vote last November by the Missouri Tourism Commission which eliminated funding for the race.

John Fougere, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Economic Development that oversees the state's tourism board, said that tourism officials were not bound to include Tour of Missouri funding once a budget was approved.

"Nothing has changed on the board and I haven't seen anything to indicate they have changed their mind. However, this is an ongoing process and we won't know anything for sure until a final budget is approved and signed by the governor," Fougere said.

However, Weiss said organizers had received verbal assurances from Tourism Commission Chairwoman Marci Bennett that "if the funding survives the budget process they would endorse the race."

Weiss said it would be "unfortunate for Missouri" if the funding was not allocated for the race, which organizers say costs between $2 million and $2.5 million. The rest of the race's funding is raised through sponsorships and private donations.

"We are interested in putting together one of the largest sporting events in North America, and one with more impact on Missouri than the State Fair. If Missouri drops the ball another state will pick it up. Hopefully the people in Jefferson City recognize that for their $1 million investment they are getting $38 million back in tourism dollars," Weiss said.

Weiss said organizers hope to meet next week to start making decisions on host cities and will be making announcements in the next couple of weeks.

Sedalia Mayor Elaine Horn said the city remains interested and optimistic about hosting a portion of the race again this year.

"This was a very positive event that earned Sedalia some well-deserved recognition -- not just across the state, but across the country and the world," Horn said.

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