While the Arlington County government’s quest for restoration of taxing authority on hotel stays is moving forward in Richmond, the biggest hurdle remains.
The state Senate on Feb. 1 voted 29-10 in support of giving Arlington back the power to levy a 0.25-percent surtax on lodging bills for use in tourism promotion. The same day, a companion measure cleared the House Committee on Finance, 15-7, and moved to the full House of Delegates.
And that’s where the logjam might occur; to pass the lower house, the measure will require a two-thirds vote (67 out of 100), which could prove a challenge.
The House measure is patroned by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), while the Senate version is under the sponsorship of state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd).
The two measures differ on one major point. Howell’s bill allows Arlington to collect the tax in perpetuity, while Hope’s includes a sunset clause, requiring the county government to come back in two years and seek legislative approval for its continuation.
County-government officials don’t like the idea of a sunset clause, but may need to swallow it to get the measure through.
Arlington had imposed the 0.25-percent surtax for 21 years until 2011, when an enraged, bipartisan coalition in the legislature refused to renew it following the County Board’s lawsuit against the state and federal governments over high-occupancy-toll lanes on Interstates 95 and 395.
In 2013, the legislature authorized resumption of the tax, but the measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert McDonnell (R).
Even before the governor whipped out his veto pen, the 2013 bills had been on a long and winding road through the legislative process.
That year, Howell’s Senate bill passed by a relatively safe margin of 32-7. But the House of Delegates initially rejected a companion bill on a 64-35 vote, leaving it several votes shy of the two-thirds majority. Efforts by then-Del. Bob Brink (D-48th) to have the measure reconsidered were successful, and the House version of the bill passed, 67-32.
Also that year, the House of Delegates and Senate tussled over whether to require a sunset provision or not, with the Senate ultimately acquiescing to the House’s demand that it must. McDonnell’s veto made the entire exercise moot.
The effort to resurrect the taxing authority 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.