We all pay taxes on the gasoline we put in our cars. In North Carolina, about 37 cents per gallon is collected from fuel sales. This tax amounts to a user fee. The proceeds are used to build and maintain roads and bridges statewide.
Imagine, however, a different situation. Suppose gas tax proceeds were given to automobile manufacturers. The funds could be used to advertise automobiles, meaning every other commercial on television could be a car ad, and a billboard advertising the 2015 models would show up every 100 yards on the highway. Maintenance and construction of the highways, of course, would be the responsibility of taxpayers, whether they drive cars or not.
Crazy, I know. But that’s how Asheville’s hotel occupancy tax works.
Tourists who see that 8 to 10 bucks tacked onto their bill at a local hotel may think that money’s going to the city of Asheville, helping local taxpayers with the costs of tourism: solid waste, law enforcement, maintenance, housing assistance for tourism’s notoriously badly paid locals. But the city doesn’t get a whiff of that money. It goes to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA), a well-connected group of hospitality moguls who’ve gotten our legislature to give them authority to levy taxes.
The BCTDA recently got their 50 percent increase in the occupancy tax, which means they now have $10 million a year to spend on projects that stimulate more room nights, more solid waste, more police and fire calls, more expense for local taxpayers. And the BCTDA’s clueless about buying local: The keystone advertising contract went to a New Orleans firm.
Our legislative delegation in Raleigh rolled over on this, and shame on them.
Other city governments collect taxes from tourists to help defray the costs of hosting people who throw things in the trash, wreck cars and more, but not Asheville. Thanks, BCTDA, for nothing.
— Andrew Dahm