Reputable think tank muffed tourist tax study

May 22, 2014

A conservative point of view on taxes is one being embraced by many these days, but when the stance becomes anti-business, it is time to rethink the issue.

Such is the case with a recent John Locke Foundation study on occupancy taxes in Haywood County.

Occupancy taxes are ones the lodging industry lobbied for decades ago as a way to obtain self-promotion funds. Showcasing all there is to do and see in an area is a way to attract more visitors, they reasoned, but to do that required advertising funds. Later on, the industry realized that to attract visitors, more and varied attractions were needed, an undertaking that also required funds.

Not wanting to ask government to pay for the needs (or perhaps after being repeatedly turned down by government when they were asking) the industry came up with a plan to assess a fee on overnight accommodations to cover the costs. In North Carolina, the structure was for counties or cities to address the issue on a local basis — once they obtained the blessing of the N.C. General Assembly.

It is a system that has been wildly successful over the years. There are industry-funded tourism agencies in the vast majority of counties in the state that have helped the industry grow exponentially.

In response to a small but vocal group in Haywood and the obstructionist position of Rep. Michele Presnell, the John Locke Foundation did a study on the effort to increase the Haywood occupancy tax from 4 to 6 percent.

Some of the conclusions in the report were not factual, something the author acknowledged and changed. Other parts of the report indicated the tax wasn’t needed at all. The first conclusion in the summary states: “Taxation is justified only for necessary purposes of government. Tourism promotion is not a necessary function of government.”

When asked to clarify whether this indicated the John Locke Foundation objected just to the Haywood County occupancy tax hike, or to all occupancy taxes in general, author Sarah Curry had this to say. “This is not a specific stance towards the occupancy tax in your county, we objet (sic) to occupancy taxes across the state by principle.”

Though a spokesperson told a Haywood audience the John Locke Foundation supports public referendums on occupancy taxes and doesn’t necessarily oppose them in general, issuing the report, and the clarifying statement of the report author, the director of fiscal policy studies, indicates otherwise.

It is a sad day when businesses trying to help their industry — which, in turn, helps the whole state —— are greeted with hostility from organizations that should logically be in their corner in promoting free enterprise, resourcefulness and self-help.