Thursday, January 31, 2013

Turn, Turn, Turn - Is Charlotte Request Time To Set Things Right?

Hoping North Carolinians haven’t been paying attention to how disappointing attendance has been at the NASCAR Hall of Fame,  facility-obsessed Charlotte officials are back to the state for another favor.

Almost anyone could see that attendance projections for the exquisitely-executed Hall were over-stated when Charlotte successfully persuaded lawmakers to exclusively lift the limit for the hotel occupancy tax rate there.

Out of desperation to keep it from being built in Atlanta, lots of people were telling themselves a story at the time.  Unfortunately, expectations were never re-calibrated.  Even more tragic is that Charlotte has saddled its destination marketing organization with meeting those expectations, much to the detriment of its broader community-wide obligations.

Now Charlotte is asking the state to lift its limit on another special visitor-related tax it was permitted to levy on restaurant tabs and other types of prepared food so it can now finance improvements to its football stadium, or, well, its NFL team might move.

Will it be a test for the Charlotte-area officials now in so many positions of power in state government?  Not if it is politics as usual.

People such as me often mistake voting and politics.

Politics begins after people are elected. To paraphrase a definition given by neoconservative editor and columnist John Podhoretz, politics is the interplay of special interests, lobbyists, campaign donors, news media and political action groups with elected officials.  Only all too infrequently is public opinion included.

Voters get a say once every two to six years. Those who “play politics” vote daily if not more often.

I hope the state approves the Charlotte request but the real questions behind the question are:

    • Will they say yes, because having proposed the elimination of corporate and income taxes in favor of sale-types taxes, it is clear that more and more lawmakers understand that it isn’t the restaurants - who are opposed to the request - that pay the tax but those who pay the tab?
    • Will they finally make the prepared food tax (PFT)available to all counties rather than just the handful beginning as a favor to just Charlotte and Raleigh more than twenty years ago without requiring a vote?
    • Or will state officials now insist on a vote in Charlotte - as they hypocritically required of Durham several years – and then sit back as the Republican-Koch Brothers spend millions to defeat it?
    • Will they continue to make the proceeds of the PFT available only for facility construction or will they more strategically make it available for a range of other even more productive tourism-related uses such as beautification and litter control, cultural and historic preservation etc?
    • Will they finally create a strategic menu of local-option visitor related taxes to include admissions which is what should be made available to self-fund the improvements requested by Charlotte’s football team.
    • Will they remember to set aside a portion from the PFT to amplify destination marketing, which economists say is the only way the revenues can be fueled enough to offset the burden on residents?

I’m not holding my breath but if state leaders are faithful to claims of a new era, this is a good time to set things right.

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