Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Say no to tumbleweeds; say yes to expanded air service

The ballot measures to increase local-option sales taxes in Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey by 1 percent for a period of five years and to use the revenue to expand air service is the only tool within grasp that will give the Wood River Valley a chance to move the local economic needle upward—or to stop it from moving farther downward.

There’s simply nothing else on the table that offers such promise. Doing the same old things and simply waiting for more visitors to magically appear won’t work.

Rewriting and redirecting marketing campaigns with cascades of clever ideas won’t work either, especially when people discover that no matter how great the Sun Valley area is, flying to other resorts is a lot easier.

The five-year experiment would give local leaders a chance to expand direct air service beyond Salt Lake City and Seattle. It would give the valley a fighting chance to compete with other mountain resorts that have had minimum revenue guarantee programs for airlines for decades.

The tax increases are necessary because it takes more than passing the hat and arm twisting to raise enough money to keep planes flying and to initiate service from San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The private group Fly Sun Valley Alliance has tried everything it can think of to generate voluntary contributions to support air service, including selling ski passes and discount cards. It’s been unable to generate enough to match or exceed contributions from Sun Valley Co., which shoulders most of the burden.

That leaves only a public option to try.

Would it be better if the taxes levied applied to more enterprises, including service businesses and real estate sales? Would it be better if all three cities levied taxes at the same rate on the same businesses? Would it be better if businesses did it themselves? Of course.

But if the valley waits for all those political planets to align before trying something new, cobwebs will cover the locked doors of abandoned buildings and tumbleweeds may rule Main Street.

When U.S. banks and car companies veered toward bankruptcy in 2008, the federal government backstopped them with short-term loans. That kept the nation’s system of credit and banking from coming to a halt, kept individuals and families from losing investments, kept millions employed and kept the economy alive.

Tiny companies didn’t get similar bailouts, but they gained time to try to stay afloat, if only on bailout trickle-down.

Voters should say no to tumbleweeds by approving the increases in the local-option sales taxes and undertaking this worthy experiment.

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