Christine Stuart photo

Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell may have cut the Commission on Culture and Tourism’s budget in more than half, but that didn’t stop her Tuesday from giving the state’s tourism industry a boost.

Surrounded by wooden carousel horses at the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol Rell promoted her “Staycation” program urging residents to take advantage of the savings from participating attractions.

The “Staycation” idea started last year when gas prices were at an all-time high.

Even though gas prices have come down since last year “we’re still rethinking our travel,” Rell said. “Prices are down definitely, but the economy is still taking its toll on everyone.”

Families are still cutting back, but they’re still looking to have fun this summer, Rell said.

“I think more than ever now families are looking for something that will help ease the pressure, they need a little bit of a break,” Rell said.

A recent survey conducted by the state Commission on Culture and Tourism indicated that 71 percent of Connecticut residents plan to vacation close to home this year and 86 percent said they would seek out discounts and coupons.

She said tourism is a $9 billion industry in the state.

But without an investment of state dollars how long will the tourism industry be able to sustain itself?

“Our state’s facing an $8 billion shortfall, I don’t want to cut anything if I don’t have to, but cuts have to be made,” Rell said. “I also don’t want to raise taxes by $3 billion, so we are looking at every single agency and every single program and making cuts where necessary.”

Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said in a phone interview Tuesday that it’s “ironic” the governor would be touting her “Staycation” program when she’s cutting funding to museums and tourism across the state. He said the Democratic Party wants to make cuts that are necessary, but don’t hurt future economic development.

The New England Carousel Museum is not directly funded through state dollars, but benefited in 2008 from about $37,795 in competitive grants offered by the state. Bristol’s Mayor Art Ward said the city also helps contribute money to the museum’s operations. 

To find a list of businesses, museums, restaurants, galleries, and more participating in the “Staycation” program, visit www.ctvisit.com.

The New England Carousel Museum is offering Connecticut residents a 10 percent discount on admission.

Click here to read about how the cuts to the tourism budget are impacting the City of New Haven.