empire exposed and dreams of a just transition

There is so much uncertainty and loss right now, as there always is, but clearly at an unprecedented scale. To bring up the topic of the TDA (yet again, click here for backstory) in this context may seem trivial. Yet by closely examining how a particular system has impacted us locally, we are able to observe a microcosm of the ills of empire currently being exposed on a global level. In the same way, the generative possibilities of the mutual aid efforts that I touched on in my last post are microcosms of an alternative, and steps towards a just transition.

As service industry workers and artists and musicians and small business owners lose their livelihoods, we see the collapse of the house of cards that was created by the TDA with no thought about building a system that actually sustains the people and place that make it possible.

Clearly the right thing to do in the short term is for the TDA to use their funds to provide direct support to hospitality workers and small businesses. Then, going forward, the whole machine must be retooled.

While the tourism industry and so much else implodes, I am still letting our state reps know what I think about the proposed reforms to the occupancy tax. You can read what I am sending them below.

Kim Roney has also put out a statement on the occupancy tax. She makes great points.

Here is a list of all the emails you can send YOUR statement to, if you are so called: Terry.VanDuyn@ncleg.net, Susan.Fisher@ncleg.net, Brian.Turner@ncleg.net, John.Ager@ncleg.net, brownie.newman@buncombecounty.org, jasmine.beach-ferrara@buncombecounty.org, anthony.penland@buncombecounty.org, alfred.whitesides@buncombecounty.org, amanda.edwards@buncombecounty.org, joe.belcher@buncombecounty.org, robert.pressley@buncombecounty.org, AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov, Stesbrown@exploreasheville.com

Food for thought

Firestorm Books shared this excellent, thought provoking article: “Pandemics: The State as Cure or Cause?”

And this one discusses the connection between COVID and climate change. As @AncientWisd0m tweeted, “Is it really a coincidence that the respiratory virus is actually helping clean the air? Pay attention to the intricate patterns of our existence that society takes for granted. The ways we learned to survive may not be the ways we want to continue to live. We must heal & shift.”

(If you’re like me, you’ve probably read a dozen other good articles about the current crisis, a range of heartbreaking and hopeful angles on this moment. May we be learning and adapting and building what’s next while supporting each other right now.)

my letter to our state reps:

While I know timing is certainly up in the air now, I am writing in regards to possible proposed reforms to the occupancy tax for Buncombe County. Instead of the minor tweaks being discussed by the county, city and a brand new hotel lobbying group, our county requires a complete overhaul of what the occupancy tax is designated for and who manages the funds. 

As is being evidenced in this moment, spending the majority of tax revenues on hotel-driven marketing has created an artificially inflated and unstable industry. The enormous expenditures on marketing to demographics that are likely to stay in hotels has created a feedback loop which has been used to justify extensive hotel development and therefore more spending on advertising. In the meantime, Buncombe County has faced serious challenges and infrastructure strain as a result of an enormous influx of visitors. 

Asheville Quantified graph, showing a bulk of low income households in tracks where there are a concentration of people working in tourism-related jobs (bottom right corner).

Of great concern is the fact that tourism does not create significant numbers of good paying jobs with benefits. The current crisis, with too many people with no safety nets, is making this painfully obvious. Our social services have been subsidizing this industry and now will have to do so on an even greater scale.

The occupancy tax as it stands allows an extractive industry to commodify Buncombe County to our detriment. In fact, there is data to indicate that a large part (if not most) of the dollars generated by tourism are actually leaving our community. 

We can no longer have millions of tax dollars controlled by a small board with narrow priorities. Currently 5 TDA board members (over half) own hotels which are part of multinational corporate chains (even while hotels only generate a fraction of local tourism-related jobs). And only one company represented on the TDA board is a certified living wage employer. It seems immoral to let companies that profit off underpaid labor use tax dollars to build their businesses. 

I agree with my neighbors who are calling for our occupancy tax revenues to be managed by a board that is representative of our community and it’s diversity of perspectives on tourism.  

The occupancy tax and the required Tourism “Development” Authority were created to develop tourism. Well, tourism has been developed here. We now need to be able to use the tax to address the problems caused by tourism, and for pressing community needs such as transit, affordable housing, and building resilient local economies. 

It is time for completely new occupancy tax guidelines which are responsive to our current context and the greater community. Hotels should no longer be allowed to steer the ship.

If real changes are not possible at this time, I am certain the community will continue to pressure the county commissioners to repeal the occupancy tax and halt the TDA’s operations until a more amenable arrangement can be agreed upon. 

Another graph from Asheville Quantified, which shows how the Buncombe County TDA (the red dot) spends way more than most other TDAs yet does not generate significantly more jobs.


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4 thoughts on “empire exposed and dreams of a just transition

  1. Very comprehensive, thoughtful piece, Ami. I hope the powers that be, who affect the needed changes & adjustments, sooner rather than later, in this emergency, will read your wise words, & take urgent action. Judith Cheney


  2. Thank you for all that you are sending out and sharing. I really appreciate these, as I am not on FB or other platforms. I wrote the reps about the Tax, and I am happy to advocate for other steps that you know of.

    I hope you are staying grounded in these days. Thanks again for your connecting us to all these movements.

    Liked by 1 person

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