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Lawmakers should say no on NWLA tax increase

If you think you’ve seen this bad movie before, you’re right: northwest Louisiana may face another vote on a measure defeated last year that would cost jobs and create other negative spillover effects.

HB 216 by state Rep. Alan Seabaugh resurrects an additional occupancy tax for hotel rooms and camping sites that voters thought they buried last year. Despite the mumblings of policy-makers and their shills that this bill is “different,” if there is any difference, it is in degree rather than kind: instead of the two percent additional tax in last year’s Act 674, this time it’s just 1.5 percent, split equally among the same three entities, for a few years shorter. Kind of like getting stabbed five times rather than shot six times.

Its proponents offer the same failing argument as heard last time, that by pumping roughly half a million bucks a year each into the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission, the Independence Bowl Foundation, and the Ark-La-Tex Regional Air Service Alliance, they will get funds to promote the area as a place for sporting events, principally the Independence Bowl, and facilitate this by having more flight choices, while few residents (only the ones that for whatever reason rent rooms or go camping) will pay for this with the costs almost exclusively foisted on outsiders. And it suffers from the same weakness, asking local voters to believe that there is a free lunch and to disregard that the increased cost of rooms will act as a disincentive to attracting events or travelers, with the consequential loss of area jobs directly and indirectly.

Also like last year, lost in the shuffle will be whether these three entities deserve any extra funds. Doubt about that has not really changed in the interim. The Commission’s parent Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau still sits on a huge pile of unrestricted cash (and gets 80 percent of its revenues from the existing four percent occupancy tax), so more cash won’t make a difference in its level of success; the I-Bowl situation may be worse than last year’s with the loss after just one year of its latest title sponsor (the bill notes that if an entity goes out of existence, the other surviving ones get its share) and none currently in the offing so this may be good money after bad (the game has a history of relying on public money to stay afloat, but not on a recurring basis as this tax would provide), and Shreveport Regional Airport with its high landing fees thereby continues to have among the highest fares among airports its size, which is the real discouragement as to putting it on a carrier’s or passenger’s itinerary.

Unfortunately, the bill has made steady progress through the Legislature, with unanimous passages throughout and now rests just a Senate vote away (and House concurrence if necessary) to go to the governor, who signed last year’s version. Given that it failed at the ballot box by only a couple of hundred votes, with the much higher negative vote cast by Bossier Parish citizens who understood the bill presented a much bigger boon to Shreveport determining the outcome, and this version is for a smaller increase and shorter duration, these special interests and their legislative allies (although significantly fewer local legislators have signed up as authors for it this year than last) may think this tax increase they can get enacted.

But less of a negative is still a negative, and the Senate, and if necessary the governor, should come to realize that relevant to this bill. Otherwise, the people will have to say no again this fall.

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