By Paul Gable
When Horry County Council begins in-depth considerations of next year’s budget later this week, the question of how much accommodations tax revenue goes to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce will be a major point of discussion.
While the accommodations tax concept is to help meet the costs of expanded services required by the introduction of millions of visitors to an area, the state law allowing accommodations tax collections requires 30 percent of the revenue generated to be spent on tourism marketing. This provision was one of the trade-offs put in the law to get the buy-in of the tourism lobby.
For a number of years, that 30 percent, approximately $2.3 million from the unincorporated areas of the county, has gone to the Chamber in a block to spend on its marketing efforts.
The Chamber receives another approximately $2.6 million from a-tax revenue generated in the city of Myrtle Beach as well as several million from the state and, the big hitter, $20 million from the city’s tourism tax.
When it is all added together, the Chamber receives a total of approximately $30 million public tax dollars each year to fund its marketing efforts.
The controversy brewing at the county level is who benefits from the Chamber’s marketing and advertising?
According to several county council members, only hotels, restaurants and other businesses within the city limits of Myrtle Beach get referrals from the Chamber’s marketing efforts even though the county’s a-tax revenue is generated outside the city limits.
If hotels outside the city limits want to receive referrals from the Chamber, they must agree to pay the Chamber an additional $1 per room night generated from the referral. This same charge is not applied to hotels within the city limits getting referrals.
Unequal treatment? Of course it is, but the justification used is the great disparity in marketing funds provided to the Chamber from the city versus the county.
So, the Chamber feels justified in adding its’ own tax to non-city hotels? How much is enough to these guys?
Certainly $30 million of public tax dollars going to a private, non-profit entity whose sole purpose is to promote the interests of a certain segment of the business community is more than enough. Much more than enough!
As one county council member said to me over the weekend, “Those elitists in Myrtle Beach want it all for themselves and its time we had a discussion on that.”
Since the advertising tax was begun in 2009, the Chamber’s greed for public tax dollars has gone over the top.
And we aren’t even discussing the resulting Coastal Kickback Scandal here.
The Chamber is constantly reminding us “It’s Working” in the local ads it wastes money on touting its marketing efforts.
Maybe it is working, but it’s not working equally or well.
Then again, maybe the real discussion should be why we are giving public tax dollars to the Chamber at all. Shouldn’t marketing efforts be a function of the business expenses of those businesses they benefit?
Call it corporate welfare, crony capitalism or any other sobriquet you wish, this is not a proper use of public tax dollars.