To keep state fairs thriving, organizers tap multiple revenue sources — including tax dollars
The annual event is promoted as the “state’s largest classroom,” and as Kansas Sen. Larry Powell notes, legislators themselves are among those getting lessons as part of an event that has them team up with a 4-H member who teaches them the finer points of cattle showmanship. A contest is then held, “much to the delight of the crowd,” Powell says. Illinois has a similar event with legislators driving harness horses in a race.
In 2008, the Legislature agreed to move the fairgrounds from Lincoln to the city of Grand Island. The new fairgrounds required a $50 million investment — $21.5 million from the University of Nebraska, $7 million from Grand Island and $5 million from the state.
The Wisconsin State Fair also operates a nonprofit foundation and gets $1.5 million annually from the Legislature for capital improvements. In South Dakota, the state budget provides $268,000 for operating expenses, and a separate foundation is working to raise $4 million to replace a building at the fairgrounds.
The Kansas State Fair, one of the oldest in the nation, gets approximately $300,000 annually from the state to match investments made by the fair itself. The Illinois State Fair is one of the few fairs that operate as a part of a department of agriculture; as a result, it receives funds for operations and capital improvements as part of the department’s budget. (Illinois also runs a second event, the DuQuoin State Fair.)
In contrast to other states, Minnesota Rep. Rick Hansen says, taxes are not used to fund the fair in his state. Held in the Twin Cities area, it attracts nearly 2 million people every year (largest attendance in the region). The lowest-attended state fair is in Michigan (see map). In fact, it ceased to exist for a time when Gov. Jennifer Granholm vetoed legislation in 2009 to fund it. Subsequent legislation (SB 515 and HB 4803) transferred the fairgrounds to the Michigan Land Bank, which is overseeing its transfer to the private sector. In 2013, the fair returned as a much smaller and shorter, privately run event.
|Stateline Midwest ~ November 2014||1.13 MB|