My Turn

Opinion: Higher salaries, lower hotel rates won't fly

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I recently bought a used Jeep. It's a nice vehicle, but what I really wanted was a car that I could both drive on the road and fly. Unfortunately, nobody will build me one.

As I observed the interchange at the Taos town council meeting recently, it seemed apparent to m that no hotel corporation, with a recognizable brand, has stepped forward to commit to build a modern 21st century hotel of two or three stories in Taos. If there is such a corporation, it, apparently, remains undetected.

And a recognizable brand is important because savvy consumers like to know what they are getting for their money and what to expect from a hotel brand, which they choose to patronize. Therefore, it also appears to me that the choice Taos must make is not between a four-story hotel and one with a lower profile, but between a four-story hotel or no hotel, with the attendant implications for the town's economy.

Mr. Batra in an apparent concession to those opposed to the hotel project as presently proposed, offered to go to the corporate headquarters of Holiday Inn Express and lobby for a three-story hotel. He also said that his mindset was to build a three-story hotel or no hotel because he "didn't want to divide the community. That thinking is specious. The community is already deeply divided and will remain so, whatever decision is made. So my advice to Mr. Batra is to either build the hotel or don't, but dismiss the fantasy that you are going to please everyone.

I also found it rather odd that Mr. Batra was interrogated with regard to the wages that he pays to his employees, information that I'm not sure why he felt obliged to reveal. The apparent intent of the questioning was to make the point that he should be paying a minimum amount that would allow a "living wage" for a household in Taos, which has been determined to be $13.00 per hour.

I'm sure that this is a heartfelt and compassionate point of view. It is also wildly unrealistic. Labor is a commodity, which, like every other commodity, is bid for in the marketplace. In the case of unskilled labor, disproportionately represented in hotel operations, the supply exceeds the demand. Whenever that situation exists, in a free economy, prices go down.

In the case of workers, to the level at which people are willing to take the job, they do so for a variety of reasons. Most minimum wage earners are young people, new to the workforce, often still living with their parents. Others are people who prefer to work part time, or simply want to augment the primary household income. The point being that every person who takes a minimum wage job does so for a reason that is important to them and in almost no case is that job expected to support a household's comprehensive income needs.

Finally, it seem ironic that, in the same meeting in which Mr. Batra was admonished to pay his employees more, he was also berated because it was alleged that his intended hotel rates were too high. In other words, he should pay out more and take in less. Any CEO who adopted such an approach would, shortly, be out of work.

Steve Walling lives in Taos.

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