Senate Challenger in 34th to Put Emphasis on Issues of Daily Living

State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd). (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

[Updated to include comments from Arlington County Board members.]

The House of Delegates’ Committee on Finance has OK’d a Senate bill giving Arlington back its ability to levy a surtax on hotel stays to pay for tourism. But the approval was conditioned on an amendment that could complicate the bill’s path to success.

Committee members voted 15-7 in support of a measure by state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) to restore the taxing authority, which had been stripped in 2011.

But the committee added a “sunset clause” that had not been included in Howell’s bill when it passed the state Senate, which would require Arlington officials to come back in two years’ time to seek reauthorization of the taxing authority.

A sunset clause had been included in a companion bill sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), which won passage in the House of Delegates and now awaits action in the Senate Finance Committee.

If the full House of Delegates agrees to the amendment proposed by the committee and passes Howell’s bill with it attached, the legislation would go back to the Senate, which could agree to the amendment, or reject it or ask for a conference between representatives of the two bodies to forge a compromise.

It will not be necessary for the bills by both Howell and Hope to make it through the legislative process in order for Arlington to get its taxing authority back; only one will need to get to the governor’s desk.

Both measures would allow Arlington to reinstate its 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. Hope’s bill passed the House of Delegates 75-25, while Howell’s passed the Senate 29-10.

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.