Resort owner challenging room tax that promotes tourism

INDIAN RIVER, Mich. – The owner of a string of cottages in northern Michigan is challenging a local room tax in a lawsuit that could have consequences for tourism promotion programs in other communities.

Motels and resorts in the Indian River area in Cheboygan County charge a 5 per cent tax that supports a tourism bureau. But George Galbraith, owner of The Landings in Indian River, said he’s had enough. At one point, the tax was 2 per cent.

“This is America,” he said Saturday. “Let’s declare our independence and get rid of some of these taxes.”

Galbraith claims the tax violates his First Amendment rights. The money supports a website that promotes nine motels or resorts in the area, but Galbraith said he doesn’t need the plug. A Michigan law allows tourism agencies to levy a tax if lodging owners vote and agree.

“I’ve always voted against it,” said Galbraith, who has his own website. “I’m not against the tourist bureau. I just don’t want to be a part of it. Most people who come to my resort have been coming for many, many years.”

But Al Thompson, president of the Indian River tourism bureau, says the website and other efforts attract visitors.

“If nobody goes to Indian River and they go to Ohio or Wisconsin, the state of Michigan loses out,” he said.

Galbraith’s lawsuit was filed on June 29 in the state Court of Claims with help from the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.

“Our United States Supreme Court has held that a person cannot be compelled to pay for speech against his will, regardless of the message, except under certain circumstances which do not apply here,” attorney Derk Wilcox said in the lawsuit.