Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Tourist Tax Carve-Up

The draft for the legislation for the Balearic sustainable tourism tax contains (pages 19 and 20) the six purposes for which its revenue is intended. There had originally been five, which were the ones that had been given prominence. They are: the conservation and modernisation of the natural, rural and marine environment; the promotion of means to deal with seasonality, tourism promotion and the development of infrastructure; the rehabilitation of cultural heritage; projects for research and development related to economic diversification and to the tourism sector; improvement in tourism sector training and quality of employment.

The sixth purpose, given altogether less prominence, is for investment in public service infrastructure, essential for compensating for the impact of tourism, especially social and health infrastructures. This item was appended late in the day. It crept in almost unannounced, but it is the item which is now central to the argument that has arisen regarding the use of tax revenue for investment in care homes for the elderly.

If you read through the list of purposes again, you will find that there is great scope for interpretation. The more specific and clearer purposes are for the likes of tourism promotion and tourism sector training. But others are far less specific. Take dealing with seasonality, for instance. The vagueness of this is such that it can be wrapped up in the mysterious item six. A justification for the use of revenue for care homes is that it will help to deal with seasonality. How is frankly beyond me.

The further justification lies with the compensating for the impact of tourism. This, it is argued, is because low pay in the tourism sector has meant that some of the elderly have been left without sufficient pensions or savings and so are therefore obliged to seek care in public residences. The argument is not wholly specious but it is selective. The tourism sector has of course got away with paying low wages, but so it has in every country in the world. It is, I'm afraid, the nature of the beast, whether I like it, you like it or politicians like it. And is tourism the only lowly paid sector of the economy? What about supermarkets and other retail outlets? Is there to be a sustainable retailing tax to raise revenues with a similar purpose in mind, i.e. compensating the elderly for the impact of commerce? What about some public sector jobs? Street cleaners, for instance. Is there to be a sustainable public sector tax? One could go on.

There is the distinct flavour of the "reductio ad absurdum" with the arguments to justify the use of tax revenue for care homes. And they don't have to end with the consequences of direct employment in the tourism sector. There would be no need for sustainable retailing or public sector taxes. Tourism uses supermarkets just as tourism likes the streets to be clean. Reductio ad absurdum.

Again, if you look at the list of purposes, there is an unwritten connection between them, and that is Més. The party controls the tourism ministry, the environment ministry, the ministry for culture and the social services ministry. The only other ministry which might be said to encroach into this list is Iago Negueruela's employment ministry. One says might. Negueruela is from PSOE.

Does one conclude from the list of purposes and ministerial responsibilities that the tourist tax is a Més tax and a Més carve-up? One might well draw such conclusions. PSOE has been the weak-willed bystander to all this, with the exception of Catalina Cladera eyeing up some millions to add to the annual budget. Otherwise it has been Podemos who have been the protagonists. As I've observed previously, Més has not taken kindly to Podemos interference and a usurping of natural Més territory, as with the natural territory of the environment or with the manmade territory of Mallorcan (Balearic) culture and heritage.

The care-homes plan is the one that has drawn the greatest gasps. Or has it? There was an online poll on the website of a local Spanish newspaper. Do you agree with the use of part of the revenue from the tax being used to finance residences? Seventy-one per cent said yes. If one assumes that this 71% is overwhelmingly Mallorcan, then who is anyone to challenge the favourable sentiment? But then, this is not sentiment coming from tourists (except when Mallorcans are obliged to also pay the tax for stays in tourist accommodation).

There again, tourists themselves are the least of the politicians' concerns, as various factions hover in unseemly fashion over the honeypot windfall of tourist tax revenue, each wanting their spoonfuls. In truth, it's pathetic, while if one believes in Machiavellianism, then the care-homes claim is all a negotiation ruse, one to be dropped in gaining total agreement (not yet arrived at) for priority to be given to environmental purposes.

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