Pinch of Salt Graphic (English)

Fifteen or 20 years ago, I used this space fairly frequently to discuss how and why arts organizations should receive support from the government.

My best argument, then and now, is that art and culture make up the soul of a city. While a strong economy, a good education system, public transit, decent housing and the rest are key to a functional city, it takes the arts to make living seem worthwhile.

But taking tax dollars out of the general fund to support the arts, be it a theater troupe, an abstract artist, an ethnic dance company, or a musical performance group, can be a tough argument. It is an argument that has gone on literally for centuries.

So it makes all the sense in the world to get that money from someone else — preferably someone who doesn't live here. Which is why you should support the proposal to increase Long Beach's Transient Occupancy Tax by 1 percent.

A Transient Occupancy Tax is, by definition, paid by someone else. A transient is someone who is here for a little while, then leaves. And the transient we are talking about here pays to stay in a hotel while they are here.

The Transient Occupancy Tax — we'll call it the TOT or bed tax now — traditionally has paid for things like convention centers, marketing budgets and pretty much anything else that would attract visitors. It helps polish the city's image too. For decades, Long Beach had a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, paid for with TOT revenue. But that's another column.

In many cities, the TOT is the source of financial support for arts organizations, as well. I know, because I personally researched in while on not one, but two different task forces to find ways to raise money for the Long Beach arts community. I got one proposal all the way to the City Council before a fear of the word tax killed it.

Perhaps I was before my time — I get accused of that a lot. Or did they say out of time? But I digress.

The point is, the time is now to bump the TOT up by a percent, giving half of the new revenue directly to Long Beach arts groups. That could, conservatively, mean an additional million dollars to keep theater, music, museums and more alive and thriving.

The tax is rolled into visitors' hotel bill. I challenge you to tell me the last time you looked at a hotel bill to see how much that city is charging you to stay there. It's part of the cost of staying at a decent place.

The 1 percent hike would increase the average hotel bill by $1.80 or $2. Is that a deal breaker? Well, the managers of the city's major hotels support the TOT increase, so apparently they aren't worried it will hurt business. And even with a 1 percent increase, Long Beach's total TOT still will be lower than most of the cities we compete with.

If you can't justify supporting it for any other reason, consider it a jobs bill — that extra money definitely will pay salaries at art groups. And it just might keep the lights on so you can see that play you've always wanted to see.

Arts are the soul of a city. Without arts, a city is only a place, not a home.

I urge the City Council to put this TOT increase on the March ballot, and I urge you to vote yes when it comes time to mark that ballot.

It will be good for your — and your children's — soul.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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