Joshua Bechhoefer: The urgency of a flatlander tax for Vermont

This commentary is by Joshua Bechhoefer, of Cornwall.

Avid skiers and those attuned to the ski industry here in Vermont see storm clouds in the distance for the sustainability of our diversity of locally popular ski areas. Whether it be the onset of climate change, the squeeze of labor availability, or the encroachment of massive corporations, most Vermonters can agree that without a Herculean local effort or intervention by the state of Vermont, our rich heritage of having many local ski areas is at risk of being lost, possibly indefinitely.

Wikimedia Commons/Briancua

Myers Mermel has proposed a 10% hospitality tax on out-of-state skiers in Vermont to subsidize tickets so Vermonters can enjoy our beloved local ski areas.

The importance of these ski areas is best shown by the example of Windsor. Beset by poor management and erratic snowfall, Mount Ascutney nearly shuttered in 2010, an event that could have proved catastrophic to the town of Windsor and nearby West Windsor. Only a concerted local effort and the nonprofit organization Ascutney Outdoors, an organization boasting volunteers numbering more than 100 strong, could allow for the radical restructuring and revitalization needed to make the ski area viable again. The effect on the surrounding area has proven profound, accounting in part for the 20% rise in population and doubling of property values over the last decade. Moreover, the maintenance of these areas provide a draw for hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, and other outdoor recreation throughout the year. I believe the positive externalities provided by these threatened ski resorts justify a robust intervention by the state of Vermont to prevent them from becoming financially insolvent.

The sentiment towards writing legislation to help preserve this part of Vermont heritage has found a home increasingly among Vermont politicians. For example, Myers Mermel has proposed a 10% hospitality tax on out-of-state skiers in Vermont to subsidize tickets so Vermonters can enjoy our beloved local ski areas. To justify this tax he presents a shocking array of facts: while half of Floridians visit Disney World, only 25 percent of Vermonters have the opportunity to ski. Over four million tourists visit Vermont yearly to ski, increasingly at fewer and fewer resorts, often run by large publicly traded corporations and conglomerates like Vail Resorts or Alterra Mountain Company. These companies charge up to $200 for a day pass. This cost is increased by large amounts of money required to be spent on hotels and other amenities such as equipment rental. For this reason, Myers Mermel predicts a relatively inelastic demand from tourists and a sustainable tax base, leading to relatively small drops in ski tourism revenue from a hospitality tax in exchange for massive dividends to the state of Vermont’s less tourist-visited local gems. Vermonters deserve to enjoy their own mountains and their own winter sports.

Although it may be inevitable that corporations come to acquire many Vermont mountains, I predict that Myers Mermel’s proposed Flatlander Tax would lead to meaningful transfers of wealth to smaller, local ski areas that may be underutilized; it would lead to more resilient communities that have been previously struggling to hire labor, maintain equipment, and cope with the changing tourist landscape. This will happen because only flatlanders will pay the tax and the tax will likely be greatest at places they go, which are the large corporate mountains. Rather than be lost in government bureaucracy, the tax monies will be converted directly into free tickets for Vermonters. The resorts should not suffer meaningfully from the tax as it is likely that Vermonters will spend money at the resorts on food and beverages as a result of the savings gained from free lift tickets, a result of the complementary effect.

As it is now, large corporations are issuing season passes below rates that local mountains can afford to offer. This has the effect of putting our local mountains under tremendous financial pressure. We need to do all we can to keep Vermont open to Vermonters and protect our local resorts.. This Flatlander Tax will provide more ski access to Vermonters and provide more money to local ski mountains. More importantly, it would also improve the physical and mental health of Vermonters previously long since priced out of skiing by the influx of tourists and changes in the ski industry.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Briancua

12 thoughts on “Joshua Bechhoefer: The urgency of a flatlander tax for Vermont

  1. 1. Government intervention in the free market is NEVER a good thing. No matter how well intentioned. Like others have said, take a look at the regulations (restrictions) these areas operate under and do something there to help out the smaller operations.

    2. Any high school aged kid can not only have a job, but also ski for free. Go work at your local mountain! Unfortunately this is not the case anymore. Most teenagers don’t work and the ski areas end up having to take on workers from South America.

    • I guess they need to stop issuing degrees in economics, you’ve got it all figured out- never even try to correct the most glaring market failure (lest you draw out the chest thumpers to call someone endorsed by Mike huckabee a socialist)

  2. I’d like to address some comments here:
    1. The Mermel campaign is in favor of cutting taxes and easing regulations to reduce their overall burden on business.

    2. think of this as a tariff. Our former president used tariffs because we were being taken to the cleaners by other countries. Vermont is being muscled out of its own heritage by out of staters and publicly traded/massive corporations that got there… by you guessed it, regulatory capture/government. I don’t see a little protectionism as socialist.

    3. the demand for our skiing is basically inelastic. Moreover, you are going to feel the same taxes in every state in New England. if you think a ten percent tax on lift tickets will drive people hundreds of miles out of the way you have a common sense problem. It will barely be noticed.

    • Right Joshua! We need to fall in line with all the other Socialist controlled New England states or we may lose our good standing with them.

  3. Idiocy abounds. It never ends in VT.

    Say, a guy from NYC with some money wants to drive to VT to ski for a five day vacation. He’ll get a great deal on a 5 day ski pass, for maybe a couple hundred $…but in the MEANTIME he will spend far, far more on hotels (Rooms tax at 10%), food (Meals tax 10%), tips, bars (10% beverage tax), entertainment….and maybe a ski shop for some new equipment, clothes (taxed) etc….and in each place he pays VT taxes and in other places he leaves great tips.. He also buys gas, and other sundries.

    SO WHAT A GREAT IDEA – to shut down, tax out & SPIT ON every tourist related entity who wants to visit our “Bernie’s-Socialist-Paradise”. VT is chock-a-block full of idiots, financial dopes & total ignorants (as well as too many hippies, still)… They are mostly on the LEFT – but sadly, a decent many of fools are also on the far “Right” scale as well I am glad I got out…after spending the vast majority of my life in VT… that once idyllic place.

  4. While on the subject of skiing and Vail, can anyone tell me who you pay sales tax to when you purchase an Epic pass ?

    I have wondered how the sales tax is divvied up amongst the several states if you you use the pass to ski at areas in several states.

  5. There is already a pseudo flatlander tax and it was created 25 years ago; aka Act 60. It is still with us but long forgotten by non-residents who were saddled with huge property tax increases very soon after Act 60 was enacted. And non-residents have never been eligible for the significant property tax credits that benefit VT resident homeowners. More biting the hands that feed us !

  6. Great idea! Tax out of state skiers so they will stop coming to Vermont to ski. Hold a spot open on the Biden Economic team for this guy!

  7. So he wants to tax people so others can go have fun. About par for the lefties in the Peoples Republic of Vermont.

  8. The author should look at the demographics of Vermont. Probably the age group that might have grown up skiing, as many of us did, simply could not afford to and cannot now. While many retiree transplants ski, most do not because of age and infirmities.
    So, go ahead and institute another tax among the myriad that exist and watch out-of-state skiers migrate to New Hampshire or Maine or NewYork. This is atypical socialist no – solution.

  9. Maybe the author should investigate the reasons small ski areas closed. High insurance rates, act 250 restrictions? This is one of the most socialist ideas for the redistribution of wealth.

    There are opportunities for affordable skiing. School programs are an option. Cross country doesn’t require a ski area. Working or volunteering at a ski resort offers a free pass.

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