car and cracked asphalt with holes in the road

Officials in the city of Madras, like those in Bend, are considering imposing a 5% tax on prepared food and beverages as a way to raise money for city streets. In both cases, it’s a bad idea.

No doubt both communities need road money. The state’s gasoline tax doesn’t raise enough to keep highways, much less city streets, in good shape, and communities across the state are struggling to take up the slack.

That said, there are real problems with imposing a tax that will fall almost exclusively on restaurants, both in Madras and in Bend.

Unlike a city-imposed gas tax, dining in a restaurant is strictly optional. If a community imposes a tax on restaurant meals, would-be patrons can either decide to stay home or go to another, non-taxing community. Moreover, it’s unfair to expect restaurants, and only restaurants, to face the prospect of losing business as patrons stay home. Both Madras and Bend have communities nearby where restaurants would no doubt love to fill orders for tax avoiding diners.

More important, though, is this:

Tourists and those just passing through no doubt do add to the wear and tear on some city streets, generally the highways that lead them elsewhere. They also help maintain those highways through the state fuel taxes they pay.

But there’s no good reason to ask someone who stops at the Madras McDonald’s to pick up part of the cost of refurbishing the road in front of the high school or the Madras Aquatic Center when city residents choose to avoid paying that same tax.

If city officials in Madras and Bend want to get tourists to pay a bit to maintain city streets, a better approach would be a city fuel tax of a few cents per gallon. That’s a tax that most city residents likely would pay, too, and as such it’s a much more equitable way to treat the problem.

If city officials in Madras and Bend want to get tourists to pay a bit to maintain city streets, a better approach would be a city fuel tax of a few cents per gallon. That’s a tax that most city residents likely would pay, too, and as such it’s a much more equitable way to treat the problem.

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