Lee Fourth

Gov. Bill Lee at Nashville Fourth of July celebration

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration on Wednesday apologized to lawmakers for a clumsy rollout of a voucher program for out-of-state tourists — a move that caught legislators on both sides of the aisle by surprise earlier this month.

In a video with county star Brad Paisley, Lee announced that the state would give people planning to visit Tennessee $250, given that they complied with certain restrictions about when and where they could stay (in the state’s biggest cities). Particularly galling to some lawmakers was Lee’s claim that the vouchers were “on me.”

Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell told lawmakers on a subcommittee of the Joint Government Operations Committee that he was sorry for “not doing a good job on communicating this.”

“I should have done a better job of explaining the value and purpose of the program,” he added.

The program was funded to the tune of $2.5 million in the annual budget, though it was described simply as a marketing program with scarce details disclosed during the legislative session. Of the $2.5 million, Ezell said the state has doled out $350,000 for 1,400 vouchers.

The stated goal of the program was to inject money into Tennessee's tourism economy, battered by COVID-19.

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