opinion by Paul Blake
Last week, The State analyzed hospitality tax funding awards to organizations for this coming year. The newspaper described this year's tax plan as taking a "Robin Hood" approach- a description that couldn't be further from the truth.
First of all, the organizations receiving funding from the two percent hospitality tax (paid for by local restaurant, bars and hotels) should have no guarantee to the money.
The truth is, the City Council and the Hospitality Tax Funding Board use the money as a political slush fund, cutting checks to organizations with ties to city officials.
This isn't a "Robin Hood" tax. It's a cronyism tax.
Through its news story, The State was either desperately sucking up to the marketing managers of these good ol' boy organizations or the writer didn't want to upset his socialite network, which would make it uncomfortable the next time he's at a Columbia Opportunity Resource (COR) fundraising happy hour.
Let's get real.
The hospitality tax fund has been a complete failure and has led to the death of unique local bars and the rise to the cookie-cutter restaurants such as Wild Wings.
Ask local bars owner if they've seen any returns from the hospitality tax.
Actually, The State was brave enough to quote a local bar owner, Scott Linaberry who owns Sharkys and Red Hot Tomatoes. But the local bar owner the newspaper quoted just so happens to be the president of an organization taking a hospitality tax funding hit. (The Five Points Association will bring in a measly quarter of a million dollars instead of $280,000. The horror. The horror.)
None of the organizations or events that receive hospitality tax funding, such as the annual St Patrick's Day Festival, are required to provide certified financial audits. (One organization receiving money is SC Pride, which is obviously a political agenda organization.)
The State wrote, "No one is saying the Vista Guild or Five Points are spending their money improperly."
For years, organizations receiving taxpayer hospitality tax funds have repeatedly dodged freedom of information act requests from this newspaper.
Virgina Bedford, former executive director of the defunct Three Rivers Music Festival was literally on the phone with our lawyers while we demanded to copy a check in the amount of $20,000 written to "petty cash."
Bedford has admitted to helping raise money for Tamika Issac Devine's City Council campaign -just one example of how political cronies benefit from the hospital tax once supported politicians are elected.
Year after year, we ask executive director Merritt McCaffie of the Five Points Association about the commission payouts for the St. Patrick's Day Festival. McCaffie has been defiant in responding to records requests and refuses to provide the commission payout information.
In past years, FPA has doled out around $100,000 to just a few people-far more than they give to charity.
The sad reality is that the hospitality tax is much worse than corporate welfare, because it some cases it simply funnels money from small businesses to political cronies. It is the kind of scheme that would make Robin Hood break out the flaming arrows.