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Attacks on a tax


The state's well-intentioned lodging levy carries a hidden cost to cities

The problem with a plan to impose Oregon's first lodging tax isn't the money the state wants from travelers. It's the money it wants from Oregon cities.

Oregonians shouldn't have a quarrel with the basic concept behind House Bill 2267, which would tack a — percent tax onto hotel and motel bills across the state. The tax would raise an estimated &

36;7 million to promote tourism, a clean industry that could be bigger here than it is.

This makes sense.

What doesn't is a provision of the bill that would require cities to spend any future lodging tax increases on tourism.

This is a place the state shouldn't be.

— In the case of Jackson County's largest cities, the provision could have considerable impact. Medford collects nearly &

36;2 million a year in hotel-motel taxes and spends about half on expenses such as police, fire protection and streets. Ashland collects &

36;1.2 million and spends a little less than half on tourism.

Under HB 2267, they would have to set aside any increases in lodging taxes just for tourism.

It should come as no surprise that many of the 80-some Oregon cities with lodging taxes are organizing against the bill, which had its first hearing in the Legislature Thursday.

They view HB 2267 as an assault on local control, which is exactly what it is.

Cities should be able to use locally collected taxes as they see fit. That's true any time but maybe especially important in an environment like today's, where all Oregon governments are scraping for money wherever they can find it. HB 2267 attempts to cheat cities out of some of what is theirs in the name of more for the state.

Better promotion of tourism could, as Gov. Ted Kulongoski has said in recent talks, be a boon to the state's economy. It's something Oregon can do without waiting for economic recovery.

Great. But Oregon shouldn't take what's rightfully city revenue on its way to building a better state tourism program.

That's what HB 2267 would do, and the Legislature should amend it before considering making it law.

Switching gears The Medford Police Department's decision to replace some of its gas-guzzling patrol cars with more economical Saturn sedans makes sense, especially in this time of high gas prices.

The rising cost of fuel caused the department to look for economic alternatives to the eight-cylinder Ford Crown Victorias that had served as patrol cars.

Last year, the department bought several small hybrid and diesel cars for the use of administrators. Now police officials estimate that they can save about &

36;50,000 a year by leasing patrol cars and driving ones that get better gas mileage. Heretofore the city has spent about &

36;134,000 for four new Crown Vics a year.

The smaller cars won't have the horsepower or the speed of the traditional patrol cars, but the high-speed car chase is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

The present calls for government to be frugal, yet effective. Medford police have made a convincing argument that this move accomplishes both goals.