Gov. Northam has closed the loop on Arlington’s efforts to win permanent taxing authority in support of tourism-promotion efforts.
The governor on March 10 signed legislation patroned by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) removing the “sunset clause” on Arlington’s power to add a 0.25-percent surtax on top of 5-percent hotel-bill taxes. The surtax funnels money to the county government for use promoting Arlington to tourists and business travelers.
Hope’s bill had passed the House of Delegates on a 76-22 vote and the state Senate on a 34-6 tally. Northam’s signature came eight days after he affixed his John Hancock on an identical bill, patroned by Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax-Arlington), which had passed by nearly identical margins.
Shepherding the measure through the legislature was a key 2020 legislative priority of the Arlington County government, and had the support of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. The “no” votes came from Republicans, although many GOP legislators supported the bills.
The surtax brings in about $1 million annually in revenue, which is used by Arlington Economic Development to promote the county as a destination for leisure and business travelers.
Arlington first gained the right to impose the additional tax in 1991, but the General Assembly restrained the county with two- or three-year sunset clauses, requiring local officials to come back frequently and prostrate themselves before state legislators for renewal of the authority.
In 2011, the legislature eliminated the taxing authority altogether during a tiff with the Arlington County Board. Legislators in 2016 allowed the tax to return, but retained a sunset clause.
Existing taxing authority was set to expire in mid-2021, but now, Arlington officials will not need to come back to Richmond to seek its renewal.
The Arlington Chamber of Commerce for years supported the taxing authority but insisted that it be coupled with a sunset clause. In recent years, however, the Chamber reversed its position, advocating that the county government should have the power in perpetuity.
Of other jurisdictions across the commonwealth that have similar taxing authority, none was handcuffed with restrictions as Arlington was.