May 26, 2018 10:24:43 PM
Defends lawmakers, calls for more CVB scrutiny
In a signed editorial in Thursday's Dispatch, Editor Slim Smith ridiculed Rep. Jeff Smith's appearance, personality and character and closed by saying that Rep. Smith will be voted out of office in the next election because of his position on our local 2% restaurant tax. The tax was not renewed because Rep. Smith and Rep. Gary Chism refused to approve the version sent to Jackson. This version, adopted by city and county leaders after months of embarrassing, public mud-wrestling, would have removed the "floor" that has always exempted restaurants that have revenue of less than $325,000 per year from collecting the tax. I've read that removing the floor would have increased revenue from the tax by $60,000 -- up from around $1.8 million. So that's what precipitated the crisis: trying to squeeze out an extra $60,000. Reps. Smith and Chism always said that removing the floor amounted to a tax increase and that if the floor was removed they would include language in the legislation that would require a public vote. In fact, they have both said the same thing every time this tax has been renewed. The late Senator Terry Brown also always insisted on a referendum if the tax was expanded.
After this year's renewal failed in Jackson, we were bombarded with howling letters to the editor about the terrible loss to our community this will cause, particularly the loss of the incredible work being done by Nancy Carpenter and her team at CVB. Ms. Carpenter herself wrote a letter to the Dispatch in which she listed some of the important things her team has done recently, including helping support MSU athletics, buying the old Oddfellows building ($450,000) and hiring a firm to design a children's museum to go in the Oddfellows building ($650,000). Some Dispatch readers were probably as shocked as I was to hear that her outfit spent $450,000 on that building, but at least it's brick & mortar and now that their revenue stream has been interrupted they can sell it to keep their office running awhile. Not for long, however, because they would be lucky to sell it for $150,000, which would barely cover Ms. Carpenter's salary for one year (I know she was making $125,000 several years ago, and I've heard that she gets more now, plus some money from a foundation of some kind). And I'm probably not the only one in town who doesn't think it's appropriate for us to be spending our tax money to support MSU athletics (through those Jumbotron ads, presumably; by the way, CVB also takes out big ads in the Dispatch and the Packet). We would know a lot more about what the CVB team is doing with our money if they would release an itemized annual budget, but all they'll give out is a two-page summary. That summary was all Mayor Robert Smith or Rep. Smith could get, even during the most intense part of the last year's mud-wrestling. By the way, when the mud-wrestled bill arrived in Jackson, in addition to the referendum provision, Rep. Chism added a line that would require CVB to submit an itemized budget every year to inform the public just what they are doing with our tax money. I hope this provision is included in any future bill.
Among the letters to the editor after the bill failed in the Senate was one from local restaurateur John Bean (Harvey's, The Grill) in which he praised the work of the CVB and estimated that their efforts increase his business 10% per year. I have great admiration for Mr. Bean and his achievements in a very tough business and I don't doubt his 10% estimate, but his restaurants are uniquely positioned to benefit from some of the traffic that CVB generates. I don't think we'll get any similar letters from the restaurant owners in East Columbus.
There's a chance that a special legislative session will be called and that our restaurant tax bill can be piggybacked onto a highway bill, but if the floor is lowered or removed Reps. Smith and Chism will still insist on a referendum. But I would prefer to see this tax die and have the city try to institute a restaurant tax on its own with revenues that are controlled by city leaders. The county is wallowing in tax revenue from its industrial centers but about the only revenue-producer the city is rich in is restaurants. Most of the restaurant tax revenue comes from within the city, so let the city have the revenue and decide how to spend it. The city might want to spend more of it on its own recreation program, now that the county has split. Let CVB open its books to city leaders and the public and make its case for its share. Of course any new restaurant tax would have to be approved by city voters.
In his editorial Thursday, after ridiculing Rep. Smith, Slim Smith boldly asserted that Rep. Smith won't be reelected. I've been here long enough to see a lot of politicians and a lot of Dispatch writers come and go, and I predict that Jeff Smith will still be in the legislature long after Slim Smith has moved on.
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