By Paul Gable
The North Myrtle Beach city council decided Friday that the voters would have a say on whether or not a tourism tax to benefit the NMB Chamber of Commerce will be imposed within the city limits.
The decision occurred during a public workshop on whether a local one-cent sales tax should be charged on sales within the city. At least 80% of the proceeds of the tax would go to the NMB Chamber to fund tourism marketing and advertising expenses that should be a responsibility of individual business owners.
The concept of a publicly elected body taxing citizens for the benefit of private businesses is abhorrent in any scenario, but, not allowing the voters a say in the process, as is practiced in Myrtle Beach, borders on dictatorial.
At least for now, the NMB Council nipped in the bud the question of whether to impose the tax by supermajority vote of council members, the way it was made law in Myrtle Beach.
NMB Mayor Marilyn Hatley reportedly alluded to a January or February 2017 time frame for a special election referendum question on whether to impose the tourism tax, but council would have to pass an ordinance on the tax before the referendum question.
The dynamics of a special election, with its traditional minimalist draw of voters, still allows the Chamber a better than average chance of winning the tax vote if a referendum is held.
But, it is better than in Myrtle Beach where the voters have no say at all.
The North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce was established nearly 20 years ago with the specific goal of drawing additional tourists during the spring and fall shoulder seasons.
Funding for the NMB Chamber came from membership fees and the 30% of accommodations tax revenues collected in the city.
According to sources familiar with the Chamber, in recent years it has added employees and expenses, thereby eating up its funding.
Seeing the $25 million or more windfall that the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce receives annually from the one cent tourism tax charged within the Myrtle Beach city limits, the NMB Chamber decided to get in on the action.
Why is it that supposedly politically conservative business owners see no hypocrisy in supporting tax increases on other people to benefit their own bottom line?
Hopefully, the NMB voters will demonstrate to these business owners the error in that thinking. Or, maybe, NMB city council will rethink the prospect of a referendum altogether.