Surveying the meals tax

I have watched with interest the enormous (and well run) campaign conducted by Curtis Hayden against the 5 percent meals tax. I'm not interested in dealing with what might be specious reasoning, or the possibility of some bias based on the amount of revenue he derives from restaurant advertising, or the certainly remote possibility that his featuring the tax on the front page of Sneak Previews would attract tourists to read what some could misconstrue as just another free advertising supplement.

Rather, I would like to deal with the results of the statistics he champions based on surveys he has conducted. Having seen no other survey regarding the meals tax, I decided to conduct my own independent survey.

I sent a letter to 20 people who I know in California and who visit Ashland on a regular basis and asked them what they thought of the meals tax — 19 replied that they were unaware that Ashland has a meals tax. One replied that she was aware and couldn't understand why it was so low. I asked each of the people who replied if they would forward the survey to 20 of their friends and ask them to do likewise. Having carefully analyzed the 380,000 responses I have received so far, 304,000 were unaware that Ashland has a meal tax and 76,000 were aware that there is a meals tax and are amazed at how low it is.

One of my friends who is an avid forwarder of emails, received 380 million responses and found the percentages held the same: 304 million were unaware of Ashland's meal tax while 76 million thought it was an excellent idea. Think of the trillions of dollars these people would spend in Ashland restaurants.

We have a difficult decision to make, and it should not be based on statistics, which can always be shaped by the individuals conducting the surveys, no matter how well intentioned they may be.

Our decision should not be made on what will benefit a particular portion of the population. Rather, it should be based on what is good for the community in the long run. Our parks, our recreational opportunities and the quality and diversity of our restaurants are what influence people to visit and dine in Ashland.

The still-to-be identified large groups of individuals who leave Ashland each night to dine in Medford, or the still-to-be indentified groups from outside the city who choose not to dine in Ashland because they would have to pay $5 more if the bill is $100 fail to understand that the quality of our restaurants and the beauty of the parks and open space are unattainable elsewhere in the Valley.

What if the tax were eliminated and all the restaurants raised their prices by 5 percent? Would people notice the price increase? Would people stop eating in Ashland restaurants because a similar meal in Medford might be 5 percent less? Who is going to drive all the way to Medford to pay 25 cents less for a $5 hamburger?

Support the continuation of the meals tax.

Bill Anderson teaches American literature courses at the Osher Life-Long Learning Institute. He has lived in Ashland for 16 years.

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