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Ski area bill is all about jobs

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Page 5 of 5

Just what is missing in the Salida-Buena Vista area was not identified in the story in the Mountain Mail .

Who benefits?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - Who benefits the most from subsidized airline flights? That seems to be the crucial issue in a proposal now being debated that would increase the sales tax in Steamboat Springs to enlarge the kitty for flight revenue guarantees.

Steamboat's direct flight program, one of the oldest in the ski industry, has been hit hard by the recession. A $1 million reserve fund has been depleted as the community has been forced to pay more to cover losses by the airlines. With fewer people flying and airlines wanting more money to cover higher costs of fuel, Steamboat has reduced the number of airline seats by 27 per cent in the last three years.

"Never in the 25-year history of the program have we seen this kind of reduction," writes Chris Diamond, Intrawest's chief executive at the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

Denver-based Intrawest has pledged to contribute a minimum of $1.1 million annually for the next five years, the term of the proposed tax. That's the average donation it has given to the revenue guarantees in the last three years. A lodging tax collected in recent years also goes to the revenue guarantees, as do scattered other donations.

The proposal would increase the sales tax in Steamboat by one-quarter of one cent. Diamond and other supporters promise restored airline seats and expansion into new markets.

Opinions as expressed in the Steamboat Pilot letters section are divided. Proponents argue that the direct flights bring tourists who spend money in ways that benefit nearly everybody in Steamboat, directly or indirectly, as is the case of increased sales taxes that are used for streets, parks, and so forth. Opponents describe it as a subsidy for the ski area operator and its hedge-fund owner.