The Moore County-based Daily Haymaker, a right wing blog which covers politics statewide, on Thursday blasted Lee County Republican Rep. John Sauls as a “tax and spend RINO” (a pejorative standing for Republican In Name Only) over his introduction of an occupancy tax for hotels and motels in the city of Sanford:

John Sauls is no stranger to the North Carolina House.  The Lee County Republican previously served in the House a  decade ago.  The highlights of his tenure then included sponsorship of  a sales tax increase for his constituents and support for financial aid for community college tuition for illegal aliens.

Well, Lee County brought him back in 2016, and he’s thanked them by introducing an occupancy tax for motels in Sanford.  The 3 percent city occupancy tax goes on top of the already existing county occupancy tax.  A real kick in the cojones to the hospitality industry in his district.  

Two percent of the proposed city tax will be to subsidize the money-bleeding and failing Dennis Wicker Civic Center.  One percent will be to — get thispromote tourism in Sanford.

Sauls and Rabin

Problematic of this post by the Haymaker is that much of it is simply untrue, or at best, extremely confused. Sauls did in fact introduce an occupancy tax for the city of Sanford (subscription required), but he was not the first to do so, and his version of the bill provides zero funding for and makes absolutely no reference to the Dennis Wicker Civic Center.

The Haymaker is likely referring to a bill introduced by Republican Sen. Ron Rabin, who represents Lee County in the Senate. Rabin’s bill, which was introduced a full 20 days prior to Sauls’ bill, and would in fact direct part of revenue from the hotel tax to the Dennis Wicker Civic Center. Rabin’s bill appears, in fact, the be virtually identical in that regard to one he introduced last year (the new bill attempts to justify the inclusion of the civic center as a funding priority by stating that it generates “as much as 80 percent of that’s city’s tourism related revenues”). Sauls’ bill, for its part, appears to be essentially the same as one introduced in 2016 by then Rep. Brad Salmon and Rep. Robert Reives II.

Indeed, we could be watching a replay of last year, when the occupancy tax failed in the final moments of the legislative session. Rabin’s inclusion that year of the provision that would direct any of the funds to the civic center was seen as problematic by many of Lee County’s elected and business leadership. It was eventually removed from Rabin’s bill near the end of the session.

The implementation of a city occupancy tax on hotels and motels in order to fund a tourism authority has been a longstanding goal of local civic and business leaders, including those in the hospitality industry, as a method of promoting local attractions such as the Temple Theatre, the Sanford Arts & Vine Festival, public art displays in downtown Sanford, annual shooting competitions at Deep River Sporting Clays, and more. Both Sanford and Lee County have earmarked some startup funds and await action by the legislature.

Despite the facts showing that no one in Sanford or Lee County is asking for a new tax to fund the civic center (it has been funded since the 1990s by an existing county occupancy tax), the Haymaker’s author links to a Carolina Journal article about something in Raleigh with the comment “Sanford apparently hasn’t learned a thing from Raleigh’s adventures with subsidizing a civic center.”

A more appropriate statement might be “Sen. Rabin apparently hasn’t learned a thing from the legislature’s opposition to using occupancy taxes to fund civic centers.”

When a local Republican pointed out the Haymaker’s error in the blog’s comments section, the author responded with ad hominem arguments and repeated his mistakes. Sad trombone.