Editorial: Don't just stick measures on the ballot to let people vote

Bad ideas don’t belong on the ballot. Bend City councilors shouldn’t stick measures there just to let voters decide their merit.

The discussion came up Wednesday night when the Bend City Council was discussing an increase in Bend’s transient room tax.

A coalition of business, arts and public safety advocates want to increase Bend’s tax from 9 percent to 11 percent. It’s a tax on lodging. Stay at a hotel in Bend and you pay the tax.

The city would use 30 percent of the additional revenues, maybe $250,000 a year, to help fund Bend police and fire. The remaining 70 percent, maybe $600,000 a year, would go to promote tourism. The plan is to use $400,000 to try to do a better job of bringing in tourists to Bend from Seattle and northern California. The other $200,000 would go toward public funding of the arts connected to attracting tourism.

There is disagreement within Bend’s lodging industry about the tax increase. For instance, Ben Perle of the Oxford Hotel argues that it will help his business and the broader Bend economy and is not out of sync with what’s being charged elsewhere. Wayne Purcell, one of the owners of the Riverhouse, is not convinced it will help him be competitive in attracting convention business.

Of course, there’s much more to the arguments from both sides. Supporters already have a website, www.bendtaps.com. We haven’t seen the same thing from opponents.

But what struck us is the assertion by supporters of the tax increase that councilors don’t have to decide that they support the increase. They must only decide if they want to put it on the ballot.

Letting the voters decide has the ring of democratic grandeur to it. In this case, it’s blather.

Councilors are elected to be representatives, to filter through difficult choices and try to make the best decisions. They shouldn’t simply transform every group’s request into a spot on the ballot. They should decide if they think the tax is a good idea — or at least not clearly a bad idea — before they put it on the ballot.

In a lot of ways, this is a seductive tax increase. Bend voters may benefit from it but are unlikely to pay it. It still deserves the same kind of rigorous examination as any other tax.