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Welcome station plans not welcome

Welcome to the latest controversy in state government's plan to get something besides goodwill from the four welcome stations that offer free orange juice and road maps to about 4-million visitors a year.

The state wants to make money from the centers rather than have taxpayers continue subsidizing them at a cost of $1-million a year.

First, the state Division of Tourism learned that federal law prohibits the state from selling lottery tickets along interstate highways.

Then officials learned federal law would not allow them to sell souvenirs and notions either.

Legal concerns also have stymied a proposal to install machines that would allow tourists to reserve hotel rooms and get attractions tickets.

Now the state wants to charge hotels and attractions for displaying their brochures in the welcome centers, which are on the Florida side of the state line on Interstates 10, 75 and 95 plus State Road 231 near Panama City.

Rack brochure rental income would be worth about $812,000. But so far the plan has run into nothing but trouble.

The state's larger hotels and attractions are willing to pay the rent. But smaller hotels objected to paying up to $1,152 a year to have their brochures stocked in all four centers when they wanted to be in only one or two.

Under a new proposal, the smaller hotels would pay $540 a year for rack space in just one of the welcome centers. But some hotels also object to that.

The state will hold a public hearing on the proposal today in Tallahassee.