The headline says "Business Helps Yellowstone," but the article body says “Of the $70,600 required [to plow the South gate], the [Teton] county tourism board offered to pay $56,000, while the local chamber kicked in $14,600.” The remainder was kicked in by a linens-supply company and a restaurant group.
Not to spoil a compelling narrative, but…
Counties are (state) government entities, and like all government entities, counties are funded by taxes. In this case, the Teton County tourism board is funded by the “Tax you don’t pay,” a 2% lodging tax levied on guests at local hotels, motels, and rental properties. The “Tax you don’t pay" moniker was coined by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce's PAC, Citizens for a Sustainable Community, which was created to advocate for the lodging tax.
Why would a collective of job creators like the JH Chamber of Commerce be in favor of new taxes? Well, here are a few reasons:
- Revenues raised by the lodging tax are pre-allocated: 60% must be spent on promotion, 30% on visitor services, and 10% on the general fund;
- Funds dedicated to promotion are allocated by the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Joint Powers board, an appointed group of “volunteers,” the majority of whom must come from the travel and tourism industry;
- The tourism board (which is chaired by a former president of the chamber of commerce) funds the chamber to the tune of $350,000 annually, which happens to be the same amount allocated to the “general fund.”
In short, the lodging tax amounts to a publicly funded, privately administered means for Jackson Hole’s tourism industry to promote their services. Thus, an article ostensibly about private business gamely picking up sequester-imposed slack could also be read as an article about private business using public funds to pay for services that, were it not for lobbying by the business’s publicly-funded trade organization, would have been performed by the government. This isn’t a story about private business picking up public slack; this is a story about private business lobbying for a public tax to subsidize a private trade organization which then allocates the tax’s proceeds for the benefit of the organization’s membership. And lest you pity the hoteliers whose ventures would fail in the absence of such “help,” consider that per capital personal income in Teton County is amongst the highest in the nation, behind New York and just ahead of Marin. So it goes.
Lesson 1. Taxes are terrible, except when they’re used by private actors to promote private business.
Lesson 2. Private businesses can pick up the slack created by smaller government, so long as those businesses are supported by government funds.
Lesson 3. The narratives we believe are no more than stories: elided, incomplete, and misleading. Forge your beliefs accordingly.