Letter to the Editor:
On behalf of the 25,000 employees of Lake County’s Hospitality industry, it is my responsibility to offer readers insight on the inaccurate reporting and misrepresentations presented to them by the Regional Bus Authority (RBA). Recent stories, commentary and editorials, while reflective of the beliefs of the RBA, in fact lack an understanding of the true purpose of a food and beverage tax: in Indiana the food and beverage tax is used to build and maintain tourism facilities.
While being adept at spending money, the RBA has yet to produce tangible results. While it has “studied” and drawn maps, it refuses to consolidate the three existing bus systems and make them connect at the borders and run by one entity. On top of that, the RBA continues to propose taxes to the people who already use the existing bus systems.
Here is some research using the Regional Development Authority’s $85,000 study and excerpts from the RBA’s $620,000 report. The RBA study details that current ridership is 2.4 million “trips” annually. That is an average of 6,575 trips per day. One can expect that these are mostly “round trips”; therefore the number of individual users on buses in Lake and Porter counties is a 3,287 people or ½ of the 1% of the current population.
The subsidy for these services (based on the $30 million desired by the RBA) is more than $9,000 per rider. Taxi vouchers or even the purchase of a car for these riders cannot be ruled out when considering that ½ of the 1% of our population is given almost $10,000 a year in subsidies. Another dramatic number is the cost per job created by the RBA is $46,000. That is singularly the worst return on investment of any project in consideration by the Regional Development Authority.
Rudimentary research on food and beverage tax use in Indiana reveals the General Assembly has mandated these taxes for tourism infrastructure and development. From the RCA Dome in Indianapolis to the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, the legislature has expressed its beliefs that the best economic return on this tax is enjoyed when new, major attraction facilities are built.
This policy creates union construction jobs, higher paying jobs at the facilities and increased visitor spending making thousands of existing businesses more profitable. Ask any restaurateur in Indianapolis about the economic impact of the countless special events like 5 NCAA Final Four championships.
The subsidy being sought by the RBA lacks the political will to pursue more appropriate types of funding. The RBA’s attempt to arbitrarily tax the restaurant industry reeks much more of political laziness and convenience than it does of solid public policy.
Readers may be unaware that many cities and towns have already rejected the municipal funding of busing, and have refused to fund the RBA. If individual municipalities like Schererville and Munster are unwilling to fund this, why should the responsibility shift to the hospitality industry? The answer is because the RBA believes it is “just the right amount.”
The efforts of the RBA have focused on begging for a funding source instead of earning one. With economic performance like this it is no wonder they continue to beg.
Speros A. Batistatos, FCDME
President and Chief Executive Officer
Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau