April 24, 2018 10:30:22 AM
Near the end of Monday's Columbus-Lowndes Convention & Visitors board meeting, Harry Sanders posed a question to Rep. Jeff Smith.
Sanders, the president of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors, asked Smith why he rejected a bill that Smith considered a new tax a few weeks ago but supported what Sanders said amounted to a new tax on the same bill Monday.
"I'm not going to sit here if you're criticizing the past," Smith told Sanders. "The past is behind us."
"The past is what got us in this situation right now," Sanders astutely observed.
That exchange came during the CVB Board's monthly meeting, which the board hoped could be used to reach a compromise that would revive the county's 2-percent restaurant tax. An effort to extend the existing tax, which expires at the end of June, died in the legislature, mainly over a dispute about which restaurants would be required to collect the tax. Under the existing tax, only restaurants with annual sales in excess of $325,000 were required to collect the tax. Under the plan approved unanimously by both the county supervisors and Columbus city council, the floor was removed, requiring all restaurants to collect the tax.
Rep. Smith and Rep. Gary Chism added the $325,000 floor to the bill in the House, but Sen. Chuck Younger refused to go along with the change in the Senate, saying -- correctly -- that he was honor-bound to support the version sent by the supervisors and council. The bill died.
Faced with the prospects of losing its primarily source of funding, the CVB has been working desperately to find a compromise that would extend the tax and guarantee the more than $2 million annually the tax generates for tourism, parks and economic development.
The CVB invited Smith, Younger and Rep. Kabir Karriem to Monday's meeting and were able to get the support of both Smith and Younger on a plan that would set a $100,000 floor on the tax.
It's understandable why the CVB would advance almost anything that would break the impasse. Its existence relies on it.
Whatever justification Smith may have had in opposing the bill that removed the floor on the grounds that it created a "new tax," is lost by his own agreement to Monday's compromise. If removing the floor is a new tax, then so is changing the floor from $325,000 to $100,000.
A floor on the tax, something no other restaurant tax in the state features, is nonsensical.
That should be evident to all. That our community could lose so much over so pointless a detail is wrong to the point of being obscene.
Sanders has said "not so fast," to the $100,000 compromise though. He correctly notes that any compromise found between legislators and the CVB doesn't yet include support from city councilmen or county supervisors.
The city will likely approve the compromise. We can see the county, which isn't as financially vulnerable as the CVB or the city, insisting on removing the floor.
In principle, we agree with Sanders' position. The city and county spent months negotiating the removal of the floor; our state legislators should support the resolution our local leaders agreed to.
We also understand the survival of the tax is of paramount importance, even if it is tainted by the unnecessary and unfair provision Smith so stubbornly clings to.
There is one person responsible for this crisis: Jeff Smith.
Smith should correct the harm done to our community through his actions by agreeing to remove the floor.
He would have the community "forget the past."
That's far too much to ask.
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