Our View: City should ground air tax promotion

At issue

The city voted to spend $25,000 to support an educational campaign about the winter air service program

Our view

The city should not spend a dime on promoting a tax it ultimately oversees

Members of the Steamboat Springs City Council were divided in their decision to reduce funding to support an educational campaign for the winter air service program at Yampa Valley Regional Airport. In a 4-3 vote, Council opted to fund only half of a $50,000 request to help finance the effort, and we think that’s $25,000 too much.

The Local Marketing District board, which oversees the air program, was proposing that the city spend $50,000 of its lodging tax revenue in 2016 to have the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association create a year-long education campaign aimed at explaining the program to the public and highlighting its impact on the local economy. The expenditure was included in the LMD’s proposed 2015-16 operating budget, which the city approves each year.

Both the 2 percent lodging tax and the quarter-percent sales tax, which sunsets at the end of 2016, are used to support the winter air service program. It is expected an initiative to renew the quarter-percent tax will be placed on the ballot in November of next year.

We agree the winter air service program is complex, and educating the public about its benefits will play a pivotal role in getting the tax renewed, but we don’t think the city should spend a dime, much less $25,000, on promoting the benefits of the air program.

We commend council members Kenny Reisman, Scott Ford and Sonja Macys for questioning why the city should help finance a campaign that could be construed by the public as a lobbying effort to get the quarter-percent sales tax renewed right before the start of a potential ballot initiative.

We agree with their position on the issue, and we urge the other four council members to reconsider their decision to spend $25,000 of lodging tax dollars on a data-driven annual report detailing the benefits of the winter air service program.

The use of city funds to promote renewal of the air service tax, which the city ultimately oversees, is not an appropriate use of taxpayers’ dollars, and we think a case could be made that the proposed educational campaign is skirting the edge of state campaign finance law, which prohibits the use of government money or resources to influence an election.

Instead, we think the LMD board, in conjunction with Chamber, should focus its efforts on finding a private source of revenue to fund an educational campaign, which, while valuable, could be considered part of the build-up toward a full-fledged marketing push to promote the tax renewal issue in 2016.

Again, we think any information the LMD board can provide to the public about how the money is spent and its benefit to the local economy is valuable.

We think the funds to support such an effort need to come from the private sector, not the city.

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