Virginia budget battle

State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) and Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) at the April 4, 2018, meeting of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Barring a last-minute debacle – although such things have happened in the past – Arlington officials are now almost assured to see one of their top legislative priorities for 2020 enacted into law.

The House of Delegates on a 76-22 vote agreed to remove the existing sunset provision on legislation allowing Arlington to collect a 0.25-percent surtax on hotel stays, with the resulting revenue used to fund tourism promotion.

The measure, which now goes to the state Senate, was patroned by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) and is identical to one sponsored by state Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax-Arlington). Howell’s bill previously passed the Senate and has moved across the hall to the House of Delegates.

At least one of the two bills still must pass the other house before heading to the desk of Gov. Northam, who seems likely to sign it.

Arlington officials long have been handcuffed by the sunset provision, which required them to come back to Richmond every two or three years to have the taxing authority renewed. Like a cat playing with a mouse, Republicans (and some Democrats) in Richmond seemed to enjoy toying with Arlington local officials on the issue through the years – at one point even eliminating the taxing authority altogether to send a message to County Board members to back off on confrontations with state and federal officials.

Most if not all other Virginia jurisdictions that have tourism-tax authority have been granted it in perpetuity, making Arlington an outlier.

The tax brings in more than $1 million per year, which is used to boost Arlington in the eyes of tourists, conference organizers and business travelers.

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