Tennessee’s plan to use tax dollars to pay for tourists’ airfares
One revenue source state and local governments crave more than others are the dollars that come from tourists. Visitors don’t demand many services like police, fire, or schools, and usually spend feely on highly taxable items like hotels and rental cars.
But the pandemic cut tourism dollars to the quick last year. What an enterprising government to do in order to get that tourism cash flowing again?
If you’re Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee you use tax dollars to offer buy tourists a plane ticket to come visit your biggest cities. And you announce it alongside a country star:
Joined in a video by country music star Brad Paisley, Lee on Sunday took to social media to promote the initiative, called “Tennessee on Me.”
“The state’s buying all these airline tickets and giving them away to anybody who books two nights in a hotel room to come to Tennessee, so it’s ‘Tennessee on me,'” Lee said to Paisley in the video, as the two worked out a jingle for the program.
“Tennessee on Gov. Lee,” Paisley replied, receiving affirmation from the governor, who is up for reelection in 2022.
Fortunately, not everyone is buying this taxpayer-funded pitch:
The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a fiscally conservative think tank, released a statement saying “it’s not the role of the government to give out our hard-earned tax dollars to tourists who want to check out Broadway,” Nashville’s honky tonk strip.
“While Gov. Lee has done a good job of balancing lives and livelihoods during the pandemic, this is is a poorly thought out plan,” said Mark Cunningham, Beacon’s vice president of strategy and communications.
“The government is picking winners and losers since only four Tennessee cities are included as part of the promotion, and it will likely just end up being another taxpayer-funded gift to Nashville.”
Regardless of which city benefits most, the idea of using tax dollars in this manner is…unique (not in a good way). But it’s also of a piece with economic development schemes that are practiced across the country. And yes, they are boondoggles, too.