Herald-Leader Editorial

Let localities raise hotel-room tax

March 25, 2014 

Every objection raised to House Bill 544, the bill that would allow a local government to raise the tax on hotel occupancy, falls short.

The bill passed the House Thursday 52 to 40, with opposition largely from Republicans and now goes to the Republican-majority Senate, where leadership has promised a cool reception.

Let's start with Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, who complained that the four days remaining in the session would not be enough to fully vet the bill.

"We only know of the essence of the bill. We don't know its details," he said. That's often a good and fair argument, but it doesn't work with a bill that takes up about half a page and amounts to (leaving out the introduction, etc.) about 150 words.

It's just not that complicated.

The bill expands a right local governments already have to impose taxes on hotel rooms.

Stivers is a smart guy, a lawyer and a seasoned legislator. He can easily vet this bill.

Another objection, promulgated by Republican Rep. Robert Benvenuti, is that it's wrong to raise taxes. It's certainly his right to make that case; but he should do it as a citizen of Lexington, where the local, elected council members will ultimately decide whether to raise a tax.

As a legislator he's advocating imposing Frankfort's will on communities rather than allowing them to make decisions locally.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, will most immediately affect plans to renovate Rupp Arena and move the Lexington Convention Center, if approved at the local level.

If the bill passed and the council raised the tax by the maximum allowed, Lexington's hotel tax would remain lower than those in Louisville, Columbus, Cincinnati, Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Indianapolis, according to Crenshaw.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, who represents part of Lexington, has complained that the city hasn't presented a financing plan for the project, or laid out how it will deal with the uncertainty caused by having the convention center out of commission during demolition and construction.

This is a classic chicken-and-egg argument.

The hotel tax increase is a critical part of the financing for the project, along with a $65 million appropriation in the budget the General Assembly has not yet adopted. It's hard to imagine how a financing plan and schedule could be repsonsibly set while these two elements remain up in the air.

The almost $330 million project to renovate Rupp and move the convention center must be subject to close, careful scrutiny.

However, that doesn't mean Republicans in Frankfort should fall back on political philosophy or weak arguments to deny Lexington's elected officials the right to debate raising an existing tax within the city's own boundaries for a local project.

They should pass HB 544.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service