Prop. J: Tourists pay fair share

By Bud Emerson

Resident, Del Mar

Opponents of Prop. J, the short-term rental tax on tourists, are perpetrating at least two very misleading statements.

One prevarication is that the city budget is balanced, so no need for additional revenues. The other is that a tax on tourists is a tax on homeowners. Neither statement is true, and misleading voters this way borders on demagoguery.

This is a very serious issue that affects our city’s effective functioning. Certainly it is OK to have differing points of view on local issues, but playing fast and loose with the facts is a disservice to honest democratic debate.

Yes, the city’s budget is balanced because the state constitution requires it. Further, we should be grateful that City Council and staff’s fiscal management has earned the highest credit rating possible for a city — this despite our small size. But, here is the rest of the story. That balance came with severe budget cuts and personnel losses. Unless we find ways to earn more revenue we will likely dig into muscle with reduced street and beach maintenance, further contractions in fire protection services, and loss of skilled personnel to other cities. Recent crime statistics show an increase in Del Mar, but we have no ability to afford more help from the Sheriff’s Department. The council recently turned down modest expenses for needed stop signs and traffic-calming measures.

Asking tourists to pay their fair share, as they do in other cities, is not only reasonable but also necessary. In fact, it’s crazy not to. All of the tax stays in town, safe from state raiding, to pay for services that all of us also help to pay for.

The other canard is that this taxes homeowners. It taxes tourists, not Delmarians. With more than 150 Internet listings of short-term rentals in Del Mar, this is a big business, but its customers bear none of the tax burden that other Del Mar hotel tourists willingly pay.

When tourists decide to visit Del Mar, they don’t consider the tax on their room, they consider whether the city is attractively maintained. Paying $11.50 on a $100 room is a reasonable way for them to help pay for the amenities they enjoy while here.

We need to be careful about getting too doctrinaire about fighting against taxes even when they make good sense. We could end up with a city not only in financial distress, but a city a lot less enjoyable to live in.