Friday, November 2, 2007

Editorials Should Be Well Researched

Editorial writers, in temple of fundamental journalism, are something like elder statesmen. Readers read them for higher guidance and deeper analyses than deadline-driven news can provide. Unfortunately, this morning’s editorial endorsement of a local “bed tax” on tourists fails offer anything approaching that fundamental standard.

Sun Pundit parrots a badly written news story’s assertion that there’s $98,000 a year to be had from a two-penny bed tax in DeSoto County. He translates it to collecting $1.50 from out-of-towners on a $75 per night hotel room.

Sun Pundit fails to note the county has fewer than a dozen motels and bed and breakfasts, representing maybe 200 rooms. He fails to tell readers many of those rooms accommodate migrant workers whom Florida Statutes explicitly exclude from paying transient rental taxes.

He fails to tell readers $98,000 revenue at $1.50 a night means 65,333 tourist nights – 90 percent occupancy in every hotel and motel year round. (Yes, I have failed to count numerous snowbird trailer parks; a six-month lease is all that’s required to escape the tax.)

Let’s assume tourists stay two nights. Sun Pundit fails to mention they’ll drive around town in approximately 30,000 cars. Our little county, at the last U.S. Census amounted to 32,000 souls.

Sun Pundit fails to tell readers tourism taxes can be used only on state-specified tourist-related projects such a convention centers and beaches. It’s a diverse list, but these are not unrestricted funds “that can be used to improve DeSoto County.”

He fails to disclose the relationship between taxes collected in the City of Arcadia and those collected out in the county. He fails to tell readers half the money collected from city motels belong to the city for its projects, even if the tax is based on a county ordinance.

We wonder why Sun Pundit is not the least bit curious about why neighboring Collier County created the same tax one year and abandoned it the next.

He doesn’t bother to estimate the very real expense of maintaining a tourist development council on the county’s legal and administrative staffs, and its government-in-the-sunshine requirements for public meetings, public minutes, and oversight.

I neither oppose nor endorse the tax. What I oppose is shallow, uncritical thinking that urges local citizens to vote for a position based on ignorance. What I endorse is locating an editorial writer willing to do more homework than copy a one-sided news story simply because it sounds like it might be a good idea.

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