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Sun Gazette: Measures to restore Arlington tourism tax move forward Print

Created:  Friday, January 29, 2016 12:00PM


The Arlington County government’s five-year quest for restoration of taxing authority to promote tourism is moving forward in Richmond.

A subcommittee of the House of Delegates and the full Senate Finance Committee have approved separate bills restoring the taxing power, which was stripped by the General Assembly.

Both votes were bipastrian, but not unanimous.

Bills to bring back the taxing authority are being patroned by state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) and Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th). They contain one major difference: Howell’s bill would allow the tax to run in perpetuity, while Hope’s puts a two-year “sunset clause” requiring the county government to come back to Richmond and seek reauthorization.

The lack of a sunset clause in Howell’s bill could spell trouble for the measure if it goes to the House of Delegates, a body far more tax-averse (and eager to keep a leash on localities) than the state Senate.

Both bills allow Arlington to resume adding a 0.25-percent surtax on hotel stays, with the funds used for tourism promotion. The county government had had the power for 21 years, with the tax bringing in about $1 million a year.

The General Assembly in 2011 allowed the 20-year taxing authority to lapse, sending a message about legislators’ displeasure over the Arlington County Board’s lawsuit against state and federal officials on high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes on Interstates 95 and 395.

After tempers had cooled, the General Assembly in 2013 voted to give Arlington back its taxing authority. But the measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert McDonnell, and lawmakers did not attempt to override it.

The proposal has the support of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Arlington Economic Development Commission. If approved and signed by Gov. McAuliffe, Arlington could resume adding the surtax on July 1.