Last Tuesday, State Auditor Doug Hoffer issued a report on Vermont’s leases with ski resorts. The leases, he said, were outdated and were not bringing a fair return for the resorts’ highly profitable use of public lands.
At the time, you may recall, the state Parks and Rec Commissioner Michael Snyder basically threw up his hands and said there was nothing the state could do until the leases expire — decades from now.
Well, I’ve been reminded by someone more aware of state finances than I (which probably includes a substantial percentage of my readership) that the state does, indeed, have a hammer it could hold over the resorts’ heads.
It’s a tax exemption, granted in 2002, on ski lifts and snowmaking equipment. This exemption cost taxpayers $1.42 million in foregone revenue in fiscal year 2012.
It’s been suggested that this is basically a giveaway to a lucrative industry. Sen. Tim Ashe, chair of the the Senate Finance Committee, has called for a cleanup of Vermont’s cluttered, nonsensical “tax expenditure” system, and cited the ski equipment exemption as a clear example of the problem. As he put it, “every time they pay less, we all pay more.”
Well, hey. Why not dangle that juicy tax break in front of resort owners, and say something along the lines of “Gee, it looks like you’re getting a sweetheart deal on your leases AND a questionable tax exemption. Tell you what, we’re feeling generous; you can have one or the other, but not both.”
Makes all kinds of sense, at a time when the Governor and lawmakers are scrambling to find revenue and/or cut the budget. Problem is, the underlying reality hasn’t changed since I last wrote about this. Resort owners are politically connected (how many trips has Gov. Shumlin made with Bill Stenger?), and generous with campaign contributions. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to take either of their windfalls away.
Need proof? How about the sound of silence from the Statehouse in the aftermath of Hoffer’s report? Nobody wants to touch this one. It’s a shame. I expect better from my Democratic majority.