The Tampa City Council plans to decide today whether to use tax money to finance a $145-million hotel, even though a crucial ingredient in the deal is still missing.
The success of this questionable venture into entrepreneurial government depends on the hotel receiving a property tax exemption worth about $3-million a year. Hillsborough Property Appraiser Ron Alderman hasn't decided if the hotel qualifies, yet Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman would have the council approve the project anyway and hope for the best.
This is a City Council already suffering from a well-deserved reputation as a rubber stamp for the mayor. It ought to demonstrate its independence and public duty by delaying today's vote until this important issue is cleared up.
There are plenty of sound reasons to reject this project outright. Its revenue and occupancy projections are highly optimistic. If those projections fall short, a good possibility, taxpayers will be on the hook _ and stay there for 30 years.
But those are issues only experience will decide. The best reasons to reject this proposal are philosophical. Government has no business spending public money on a private hotel, especially one that competes directly with other privately owned hotels that don't enjoy the same tax breaks.
The mayor asks the public to finance this project with little or no say over how it is run. The private board overseeing the hotel is a self-perpetuating body not subject to the kind of scrutiny such a lavish expenditure deserves. That ought to alarm taxpayers already suspicious of how government spends their money.
Whether the city needs a hotel near the convention center is not the question before the council. Instead, it must ask whether attracting more business for the convention center is worth risking millions of tax dollars on a venture that would undermine the traditional role of government and harm private, tax-paying businesses.
The Convention Center needs a hotel, but that was obvious before it was built. Throwing good money after bad is no way to run a government. As hard as it might be, the council ought to cut its losses and walk away from this deal. That's what the public would do if given the chance. The council ought to follow the public's lead.