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More steps forward for Arlington tourism-tax measure

Published Thursday, February 25, 2016 7:30 am

Inside NoVA

Barring last-minute hiccups, the Arlington County government now appears likely to get back its taxing authority for tourism promotion.

Measures to end the five-year moratorium on the taxing authority continue to move forward in Richmond:

• The House of Delegates on Feb. 24 voted 78-22 in support of legislation that previously had won approval on a 29-10 vote in the state Senate. The bill is patroned by state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd).

• The Senate Committee on Finance on Feb. 24 voted 12-2 to support a similar bill that previously had won passage in the House of Delegates on a 74-25 vote. It is patroned by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), and is headed to the full state Senate.

Both bills have been amended from their original form, but not in ways that will impact Arlington’s ability to levy the tourism-tax surcharge beginning July 1, assuming they are signed by Gov. McAuliffe, which is expected.

Both bills now include a “sunset clause” requiring Arlington to come back in two years’ time for reauthorization of the taxing authority. Such a clause had been included in Hope’s original bill, but not in Howell’s, but was inserted at the insistence of the House Republicans.

Both measures would allow Arlington to reinstate the 0.25-percent surtax on hotel stays on top of a 5-percent local tax. The resulting revenue, about $1 million a year, would be used to fund tourism promotion in the county.

The taxing authority had been in place for two decades, but was allowed to die by state lawmakers in 2011, after they were angered by the Arlington County Board’s lawsuit against state and federal officials over high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes on Interstates 95 and 395.

The General Assembly voted to give the taxing authority back to Arlington in 2013, but the measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert McDonnell, and legislators did not attempt to override it.

Because the measure involves taxing authority, it requires a two-thirds vote in each house of the legislature before it goes to the governor.

At the Feb. 23 County Board meeting, board vice chairman Jay Fisette sounded as if he expected the sunset clause to be included in the final approved legislation.

“We will have to come back and do this again,” Fisette said.

County Board member John Vihstadt recently joined Hope in a meeting with House Speaker William Howell (R-Fredericksburg) to seek his support in reauthorization. Howell was among those who voted in favor of Hope’s bill.