Lawmakers Float Proposal for Funding USNTO

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WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers are floating a proposal to use the federal aviation trust fund, which holds taxes on airline tickets, as the vehicle for financing the U.S. National Tourism Organization.

The USNTO is a public/private-sector partnership created to market the U.S. to inbound visitors, and industry groups have been struggling to reach consensus on how Congress should pay its share.

Speaking here during the first legislative summit of the American Hotel & Motel Association, Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), cochairman of the House Tourism Caucus, suggested that the aviation trust fund could be converted into an interest-bearing fund.

"Sweeping off the interest would be enough to pay for the USNTO," he said. The fund is expected to have a $14 billion surplus next year.

Foley said the proposal emerged from discussions with House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

The proposal is likely to run into opposition from airline groups, which have complained the fund is not being used properly for aviation projects.

Previous legislation authorizing the government's participation in USNTO will lapse in October unless a funding mechanism is approved.

Following Foley's speech, AH&MA members spent the rest of the day on Capitol Hill lobbying on various hotel industry issues.

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