Arizona U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D) hosted a roundtable with Arizona tourism and hospitality leaders last week to discuss Covid-19’s impacts on the industry and legislation to help bring the state back as a top travel destination.
Participants included executives from many of the most renowned resorts that attract high-dollar tourists and business travelers to the state. Several said one of their top concerns is finding workers due to the pandemic shutdowns last year. Employees went on to find other jobs or are on unemployment.
Many small operators were left behind in the various federal relief packages, said Kim Sabow, president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association (AZTLA), which acts as the voice of tourism in the state.
Top concerns: labor, relief, wages, taxes
Sinema held the roundtable to hear about concerns and update industry leaders on legislation designed to help tourism recovery and discuss other measures that may be needed.
“As Arizona recovers from the pandemic, we’re identifying long-term solutions with tourism industry leaders to fuel jobs, expand opportunities, and ensure Arizona continues to be a top tourism destination,” Sinema said.
Hotel industry shook hard by pandemic
Tourism advocates told Sinema that many hotels, particularly smaller operators, are struggling financially and need targeted relief written into the recent federal $1.9 trillion stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan.
Hotels lost 50 percent of their workforce at the height of Covid-19. Arizona also lost $12 billion in visitor spending last year, Sabow said. Of that, $1.3 billion would have been hotel revenues, producing about $300 million in state tax revenues.
“We have endured the worst crisis of the globe, and particularly, that this industry has ever faced, wiping out 10 years of job growth,” Sabow said.
Sinema’s bipartisan legislation to aid tourism
Sinema, who is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that oversees tourism, listened to the concerns and promised to use the information to continue to work on the industry’s behalf.
Sinema has made bipartisanship her goal, working across the aisle to get meaningful legislation passed, she said.
Here’s some of the most recent legislation Sinema introduced or co-sponsored to aid the tourism industry in recovery:
- The new Protecting Tourism in the United States Act, which requires the U.S. Commerce Department to study the pandemic’s impact on the travel and tourism industry and submit recommendations to ensure a robust recovery.
- The bipartisan Restaurant Rescue Plan fund, which Sinema co-sponsored with Republican Senator Roger Wicker, is up and running, and its Revitalization Fund is open for applications. The fund will provide structured grant relief to Arizona’s local and independent restaurants.
- Sinema recently introduced the bipartisan Healthy Workplaces Act with Republican Senator Rob Portman. Their bill allows businesses and nonprofits to receive a quarterly tax credit to offset 50 percent of COVID-related costs related to PPE, cleaning and sanitization, and reconfiguring workplaces — such as installing plexiglass.
- Travel Destination Marketing Organizations were eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program loans in the December COVID-relief law.
- Save Our Stages Act This legislation created a $15 million fund to provide relief to the entertainment industry like nightclubs, theaters and concert halls.
Stance on issues important to business
After the roundtable, Sinema answered questions about her stance on issues important to business and industry including the minimum wage, the fate of the filibuster and proposed legislation that could upend right-to-work laws in Arizona and the U.S.
Here’s what she had to say:
Minimum wage legislation in the works
Currently, Democrats are pushing to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next few years, which many industry sectors oppose, particularly hotels and restaurants that rely on lower wage, entry-level workers. With a percentage of Americans calling for a wage hike, Sinema said she and Republican Senator Mitt Romney are working together to find a solution.
“We’re working on a reasonable compromise that can sustain a strong business climate,” she said.
No action on PRO Act
When asked about her stance on the PRO Act, which would overturn Arizona’s 75-year-old right-to-work law, Sinema said she is not a co-sponsor and has doubts about the legislation ever moving forward.
“The measure not has not come up for a vote, if ever, so I’m continuing to look into the concerns of folks in Arizona,” she said.
Wait-and-see on corporate tax hike
As far as Biden’s proposal to increase federal corporate income taxes, Sinema said there have been no bills introduced at this time to do so. But as both houses piece together a major infrastructure bill, there will be a process involved to calculate how to pay for it, Sinema said.
Filibuster needs to stay
Another proposal to eliminate the filibuster, which would allow a political party to pass bills with a 51-vote simple majority.
Sinema has long opposed elimination of the rule, saying it is a critical tool for forcing compromise, which is needed right now.
“The filibuster ensures that congressional members have to work to find common ground. The filibuster is designed to bring senators together to find bipartisan compromise, to bring folks from different perspectives together to find commonality,” she said. “When the Senate is broken, the solution is not to get rid of the rule, the solution is to change our own behavior.”