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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Room Tax "Reform" Looks Like More Dirty Special Interest Payback

Who woulda' thunk that something as mundane as the municipal room tax would have made such a big splash on Janesville's city budget as it did over the past several weeks. It's like I smelled a rat from miles away when I first heard small government "conservatives" on the city council amp up a 17 to 1 return on investment narrative to increase government spending for the quasi-public/private Janesville Convention and Visitors Bureau. The bureau receives all of its funding from the room tax.

But little did I know at the time that under the guise of job creation, republican state legislators introduced a bill (SB301/AB385) in September that would in effect, take away local control governing the room tax and require at least 70% of all submitted municipal room tax revenue be allocated to a dedicated slush fund for business, convention and tourist special interests.

According to a talking points bulletin promoting the room tax "reform" proposal, proponents of the bill were perturbed that room tax revenue paid by overnight guests at lodging properties was being used instead to subsidize local municipal services. Oh the outrage! Well, wait a second. This isn't even a fair comparison, but didn't Gov. Walker take about $25 million of $32 million in federal mortgage settlement money to close a budget shortfall? Ahh, budget priorities.

You have to wonder where all this is headed. Should sales taxes collected at thrift/second hand stores be dedicated to replace lost sales from new goods retailers? Or, how about sales taxes collected on purchases from Menards, McDonalds or Wal-mart? Should that revenue be returned to those private interests so they can buy more advertising to attract more customers to spend money in the community, thereby generating more tax revenue? Room tax supporters call this concept, "perpetual funding." You've got to hand it to them.

So, should state government use its collectivist power to confiscate revenue and then dedicate its use for select private interests while distressed public obligations go underfunded? That I'm stating that in question form is actually disturbing to me. But that's basically what they want to do with the room tax.

Here's another crunch. If their so-called room tax reform is passed, cities the size of Janesville will not only lose control of the revenue, it will lose at least $250,000 annually that will have to be made up with another new tax, tax increase or a major service cut. Judging by the last city budget session, searching for a mere $30K in budget cuts was absolutely butt ugly.

Over the years, neither party has been immune to this behavior, although less noticeable and in much more subtle ways. But under Gov. Scott Walker and our new normal of single-party rule, we have full-blown in-your-face centralized state government authoritarianism leaving no stone unturned in efforts to pay back its supporters by dictating the installation of a hegemonic uniformity to seize the spoils of local capital and control.

We are in deep doo.

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