John Settle-Opinion-May 2015Caddo Bossier voters can expect a campaign to crank up soon to pass the proposed hotel-motel occupancy tax increase that will be on the November 21 ballot (along with all the run-off candidates). A similar tax was on the November 2104 ballot; it passed in Caddo Parish by a 52% “yes” vote but failed in Bossier Parish with only a 45% “yes” vote. The margin of defeat in Bossier was only 208 votes.

Quiet-AirplaneThe November proposition is slated to benefit the Ark-La-Tex Regional Air Service Alliance (RASA), the Independence Bowl Foundation and the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission. The proposal is for a 1.5% increase on the current hotel-motel occupancy tax from 4.5% to 6%; the additional funds are to be split evenly between the 3 organizations. (Last year’s proposal was for a 2% increase to have been split 37.5% for RASA and the I-Bowl with 25% for the Sports Commission.)

money-ballot-boxBoth Caddo and Bossier must pass the ballot for the tax to go into effect. The occupancy tax increase is expected to produce more than $1.7 million per year with more than $550,000 going to each of the 3 entities. It is estimated that the tax will increase the average cost of a room approximately $1.10 per night, per room.

Shreveport Mayor Tyler, who has endorsed the tax proposal along with Bossier Mayor Walker, says that even with the increase Shreveport-Bossier will still have the lowest average daily hotel rate of any major city in Louisiana by approximately $74.

The Independence Bowl is in it first year under (another) new title sponsor — Camping World. Bowl chairman Kyle McInnis says that additional funds from the tax would not only add value to the sponsor but also attract better teams to the annual game. Bowl spokesmen said the same thing last year with the secret Duck Commander deal which did not prove to be the case.

Whose Money is it?
Whose Money is it?

RASA will use the funding from the new tax to help bring more air service to the Shreveport Regional airport. (In today’s world of limited airlines, it is not uncommon for airports to subsidize flights for an initial time period to gain new routes.) RASA secured the Denver flight with United and hopes to get direct flights to Chicago and Washington, D.C. With the new 4 star General at Barksdale Air Force Base there is a renewed interest in adding these 2 direct flights which would also benefit Cyber Innovation Center.

The Sports Commission is a division of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau that partners with the City of Bossier, the City of Shreveport, the Caddo Parish Commission, the Bossier Police Jury and the Red River Waterway Commission to bring sport events to Shreveport. The Commission does everything from submitting bid proposals for sporting events to assistance with promotion and the actual facilitation of the activities. Billy Montgomery is the chairman and Ken Antee is the vice-chairman. Upcoming events that the Commission is helping include the Fishers of Men Bass Tournament, the Red River Classic Football game, LSX Monsters Shootout Drag Racing, and the RCA Black Rodeo Finals. RCA Rodeo Finals

The real concern for voters will be the fact that the proposition is a one shot vote—and voters can not pick and choose who should get the moneys. Unlike RASA and the Sports Commission, the I-Bowl is a one time event that does not offer any real benefit to most citizens unless they buy tickets to the game or they cater in some fashion to the Bowl game. In contrast, any additional flights that RASA can bring to Shreveport offers opportunities for all local residents as well as their friends and families who live outside the area who may now find flight travel to Shreveport more convenient. In a similar fashion, the Sports Commissions brings many events each year that provide diverse entertainment options for local residents as well as possible economic events to some local businesses.

Clorox Toilet BowlAnother reality is that the I-Bowl staff and sponsors have long held a attitude of entitlement—expecting public agencies and local businesses to provide direct and indirect economic support of the game while maintaining a policy of secrecy on Bowl operations. And unlike RASA and the Sports Commission, the I-Bowl has refused to comply with the Louisiana Public Records Act which requires disclosure of financial and other business information. A perfect example is the contract with Duck Commander that obviously was a loser for the Bowl and Shreveport as well—the Ibowl staff refused to release this document.

The I-Bowl should pledge to the citizens of Shreveport and Bossier to be totally transparent on all Bowl matters and to fully comply with the Louisiana Public Records Act without the requirement of court action if this tax proposal is to be passed. Voters should ignore all the anticipated hoopla about the economic benefit to the community of the Bowl – – which to most citizens just means more traffic jams and over-crowding of favorite restaurants. The public should insist that this foundation subject itself to the same rules as public agencies since it receives public dollars from the state Legislature, in-kind support of local government agencies and now wants an occupancy tax to be passed by local citizens. It’s simple enough – – and long overdue.