Pull all tax dollars for tourism, arts initiatives

by Lewis Loflin

Barter Theatre Still on Public Welfare in 2011

Millions in economic and tobacco grants have gone into tourism industry. Abingdon already had a tourism industry for years, but more pork dollars that should have went for education and healthcare was diverted to consultants and marketing experts since 2004 to make Abingdon the next Dollywood.

The Barter Theatre has been an economic basket case, as has most of these other tourism venues that have been around for decades, and still has to be bailed out. When I stood before the Virginia Tobacco Commission hearing in Bristol in 2008 I directly asked how many displaced tobacco farmers got a job at the Barter Theatre? Never got an answer. The Town of Abingdon just approved another $200,000 bailout for the Barter Theatre. As a non-profit they pay zero taxes but got big funding while Highlands Community Services (Children's Campus) got zero.

Holston Mountain Artisans got $5,000; Symphony of the Mountains got $5000; Virginia Highlands Festival got $35,000; the failed William King Museum got $50,000 to help bail them out; the Music Events Committee will get $50,000. Yes tourism is real winner for those collecting tax dollars. They continue to be a failure as they can't even pay their bills while children get zero.

All of that is part of the new programs of putting the vaunted "creative class" on welfare and that will bring in jobs and opportunity for everyone. Yeah, right

The letter below was written/published in 2010 when Virginia threatening to end the Virginia Arts Commission. (They managed to save it while the State was going broke.) This has been the pattern across the region as the only jobs go to those with the connections to bleed the taxpayers. Note this is just the town of Abingdon, just one of multiple sources they leech off of. None of them pay a penny in taxes.

Printed March 12, 2010 Bristol Herald Courier:

Re: cuts in arts funding by taxpayers. It's about time they did this. If all this art/tourism nonsense is such a great economic investment, why is it after an infusion of millions of tax dollars can't any of the attractions turn a profit or even pay their bills?

The real industry here is diverting millions of dollars from education, job training, and health care to fund entertainment for the wealthy elite. Let them pay for their own culture. No more tax dollars for tourism or the arts.

By the way, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services (2010), poverty in Washington County Virginia increased from 1997 to 2007 even before the recent downturn. That's what tourism/arts development has brought the working poor of this community.

Lewis Loflin
Bristol, Va.

What is the Tobacco Commission?

The Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission is a 31-member body created by the 1999 General Assembly. Its mission is the promotion of economic growth and development in tobacco-dependent communities, using proceeds of the national tobacco settlement. To date, the Commission has awarded 1,407 grants totaling more than $793 million across the tobacco region of the Commonwealth, and has provided $288 million in indemnification payments to tobacco growers and quota holders.

Their website is at After being blocked for years by Republicans they finally investigated TIC and found that 89 percent of that $793 million is largely unaccounted for. They never checked back on what happened to the millions, what it went for, or what public good resulted from it. One person went to jail for fraud, but the rules are so broad and unenforceable I doubt any of the money will ever be seen again. Part of that missing money was to make Barter Theatre a viable operation.

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