Part of the highway robber's thinking must be that he has a better chance of avoiding capture or prosecution if he preys on passers by and not on locals. The same theory applies to taxing jurisdictions. The easiest tax to pass is one which will be paid by someone else. It's free money!
One evening several years ago I was sitting in a motel room in Port Lavaca, Texas, reading the local newspaper. In it was an article about a city council meeting in which there was a discussion about a proposed motel occupancy tax.
At the time, there were two motels in Port Lavaca, and the paper said there were two people at the meeting objecting to the tax - the two respective owners of the motels. But, the argument went, the tax proceeds could be used to promote tourism, and everyone would win. The tax passed unanimously. How's that working out for you? Got lots of tourists coming in?
Fast forward to today. The Midland County Commissioners Court met this morning, and one of the proposals was a county motel occupancy tax of two or three percent. This would be added to the 13% motel occupancy tax already in place.
And, wouldn't you know it, one of the arguments in favor of it was that it "would keep the burden off of our taxpayers." "It's win, win." And besides, everyone else is doing it.
The purpose of the tax is to help fund the Horseshoe project, a county building project already approved. But, to do this there would need to be state legislation authorizing it. And, the Commissioners and other people present were told that state Senator Kel Seliger had agreed to sponsor a bill for this.
But, why even bother with 2%, why not bump it up to 3%? The motion was made and seconded. It was approved by the Commissioners with a 5 to 0 vote.
What a cheesy way to make money. But, have heart. Those tourists will just pour in once that Horseshoe project is built.
Update: Kudos to the tax hawks at Jessica's Well for taking up this issue (and also making the subtle but painful point that it isn't news unless it shows up in the MRT.) It takes adherence to principle to object to a tax such as this one. It's like found money, it's so easy to overlook the fact that it belongs to someone else. And, see this second item, also at J's W, which makes the thought provoking suggestion that if the 3% is indeed meaningless, then the hotel/motel owners could just go ahead and start charging now and keep the proceeds themselves.
And, another local blogger weighs in as well with a very eloquent restatement of the argument that a tax is okay as long as someone else pays it.
Here's an idea, if the local taxing authorities want a tax they could stick on someone else they could lobby our legislators for a law allowing municipalities to place toll booths on those portions of interstate highways that bypass the little cities. That way they would be taxing only the people who DON'T want to visit. And, while we're at it, why not bring back the highway speed traps?