A food and beverage tax in Monroe County?
The Monroe County Council is speeding toward a vote to take money out of the hands of citizens and give it to private business. The goal is to expand the convention center, which will supposedly create a number of jobs for downtown businesses.
But no one has answered the most important question in this discussion. If there is a legitimate business need for an expanded convention center, why has the private sector not built one already? As Charles Trzcinka pointed out in the Herald-Times, “in many cities, the convention business is entirely handled by private development.”
A look at all of the new apartment buildings in downtown Bloomington clearly shows there is a lot of money available for development when there is a legitimate business interest and an expectation that profit will be made. If government has to fund the expansion of the convention center, then it is probably not needed. So let’s call a spade a spade – this is corporate welfare.
Furthermore, if we truly need to raise taxes to fund the expansion of the convention center, why not petition the state for an excess levy on our property tax bill? It is simply not fair to place all the burden for expanding the convention center on one industry while giving everyone else a free pass. A rising tide lifts all boats, so if this is a necessary project for government then everyone should be on board in funding it.
An important observation was made by William Ellis, who is leading the charge against the tax increase. When Interviewed by WFHB radio, Ellis said this:
The first session they had for this, they had 18 speakers for this tax. All 18 of them work for the visitor’s bureau or the convention center. The people speaking were not the people. They were ones that had a vested interest in this going through, and I saw no public support. And I started asking around and there was really very little public support of those that didn’t have their hand out to benefit from this.
Ellis also pointed out that it is not just restaurant customers who will be paying the tax. If you buy prepared food at a supermarket, you will be paying extra toward the convention center. It is simply not accurate to say that this is only a restaurant tax, and people will be surprised when their grocery bill goes up.
It is unfortunate that this is being discussed in June, when most IU students are out of town on summer break. In addition to being a tax on local residents, this is a tax on pizza and beer. What would students say about having their purchases taxed when there is no long-term (or even short term) economic benefit to them? Most students will leave Bloomington after four years and never move back, so they will not get the jobs this expansion would allegedly create. The vote should be delayed until at least September so students can express their opinion too.
The food and beverage tax is crony capitalism at its worst. This is corporate welfare for a project that has not shown to be supported by a market need, by virtue of the fact that the market has not built it. The county council is looking to raise taxes on all of their constituents to benefit a few special interests. The fact that this vote is timed to shut out the voices of the student voters who were critical in electing the Democratic majority in the first place makes it even more shady. This should be rejected.