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Gov Lee's "Tenneesee On Me" Program met with opposition on both sides

Some Tennessee lawmakers and Tennesseans who don’t support the idea say it's not the right way to use taxpayer dollars.

TENNESSEE, USA — Tennessee governor’s plan to entice people to visit Tennessee isn’t being very well received by people in the Volunteer State.

The governor’s “Tennessee On Me” program is offering plane tickets for people who book a two-night stay in Tennessee at participating hotels. 

Some Tennessee lawmakers and Tennesseans who don’t support the idea say it's not the right way to use taxpayer dollars.

“This is not a partisan issue. People across the political spectrum were really surprised and don’t appreciate Tennesseans hard-earned tax dollars being used to fund vacations for out of state tourists,” Democratic Senator Heidi Campbell said.

Governor Lee made the announcement about the “Tennessee On Me” program on July 4th during Nashville’s “Let Freedom Sing” event.

“I don’t feel like this whole program or whatever this is, is an effective way to spend taxpayer dollars,” Nia Tolbert who has lived in Nashville for 6 years said. “The quarantine and everything is over. We’re opening up. I think the traveling here has been so broad and everyone is here,” she added.

“Free plane tickets because they’re booking hotels. That means they were already going to come. there’s really no point in doing that,” Cordnie Brown who is a Nashville native said. “I don’t feel that’s a productive way to bring people into Nashville. I feel as though Nashville is attracting people here as it is,” she added.

“Tennessee On Me” program offers a $250 airline voucher to the first 10,000 people to book a minimum two-night stay at a participating hotel. 

The program applies to four major cities in Tennessee: Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville.

“250,000 people have been laid off since January. And despite what the governor is saying this economy is not back to normal and none of the underlying issues that make our families vulnerable have been addressed, like health care and child care,” Senator Campbell said. “So it's insulting to send more tax dollars out of state when we’ve got a big pocket of problems being ignored right here at home,” she added.

Our NBC affiliate in Nashville, WSMV, reached out to Governor Bill Lee’s office for an interview, but his office responded saying the governor was not available for an interview on Wednesday. But, they sent the following information:

  • Tourism is Tennessee’s second-leading industry and a huge economic driver statewide. The campaign will support our state’s economic recovery and workforce growth
  • Our tourism industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans, saw over $300 million in lost revenue between March and December 2020
  • This tourist development campaign is a one-time investment of $2.5 million, approved by the legislature in the state’s FY21-22 budget

“Lee doesn’t really care about Tennesseans in my own opinion,” Senator Campbell said. “He denies us our own tax dollars and federal assistance. He’s denied teachers pay raises. We have department of children service workers drowning in cases and opioids death are skyrocketing. Gun violence is higher than ever. TANIF funds have been banked and not distributed and he is using our funds to buy plane tickets for bachelorette partyers, just wow,” she added.

Nashville Native Cordnie Brown said she doesn’t feel Nashville necessarily needs this incentive, but smaller cities like Jackson might need it. She also went on to say other means should be used to attract people, and not use taxpayer dollars.

“You can use things like television or movies to bring people or just other conventions and things like that, and that way you have jobs being made at the same time instead of giving away free money,” Brown said.

“I think tourism is doing pretty well in Nashville right now. I’ll say some of my Republican colleagues are concerned because these dollars going specifically to the major cities in terms of tourism,’ Senator Campbell said. “If we want to incentive the economy and move the economy, let's invest in Tennesseans,” Campbell added.

WSMV reached out to the Tourism Commissioner’s office to ask how the process will work.

They said hotels must be booked through tennesseeonme.com or the Nashville CVC Reservations Center at 800-657-6910 to be eligible for the $250 airline voucher. 

One airline voucher is provided per package reservation and will be emailed to the email address provided on the reservation within 48-72 business hours after the booking date.

The offer is available until September 15 or while supplies last.