In the question of borough funding of non-departmental entities, it's become clear to us that the debate has become muddied, especially concerning the funding of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. We are going to make our position clear.
Tourism is a valuable industry to the livelihood of the Peninsula. We support a robust tourism industry and welcome visitors to come back again and again.
What we question is the government's role in support of private enterprise -- particularly when the government has no control over how the people's money is spent.
We make a mistake when we equate tourism as all-encompassed by the marketing council. We make a mistake when we see the tourism industry as bound at the hip with the rise or fall of this agency or any agency whose primary mission is to raise the fortunes of a single industry, not withstanding that industry's contribution to the community through existing taxation practice.
In addition, we take the opposing position on any new tax proposals unless they are clearly proven as necessary and vital to the public good.
In our mind, the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council has not made a convincing argument. Instead, the council has wrapped itself in the flag of the industry and claimed that any slight against it is a slight against tourism itself.
The marketing council's back door attempt to raise funds asks the borough to collect a "self-assessment" that tourism operators reportedly will gladly pay. Call it an assessment, a fee, whatever. When government takes money from your pocket, it's a tax.
And we oppose any new taxes.
Taxes on businesses are rarely absorbed within the business's operating budget. Instead, smart businesses find ways to pass the expense on to customers.
That means you, or your guests who visit this summer.
The marketing council's proposal suggests the "assessment" will raise an estimated $1.6 million. The borough, serving as the council's collection agent, gets to keep 3 percent. That's $48,000. We find it hard to believe that the borough won't spend more than that on clerical time to collect the "assessment."
And even if the borough collects the money and hands it over, we taxpayers have no say over how it is spent.
If the members of the tourism marketing council are sincere, let them assess themselves and keep government out of the equation. Why must the borough be a hired collection agency? That's not the role of government in a democratic society.
Or, if the industry sincerely feels that government must be involved, let's form a service area and elect an oversight board made up of members of the public, much as the service area board for Central Peninsula Hospital.
This is not an argument of whether anyone supports tourism and the economic contribution it makes to our community.
This is an argument of government's proper role. And that is how the debate should be framed.
In short: In the debate over funding the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, think hard about what tasks and duties you want your local government to be responsible for.
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