Hotel-motel tax should get a thumbs-up in June

By Union Democrat staff June 09, 2010 09:44 am
    It’s an idea whose time has come: a tax increase that won’t cost Sonora and Tuolumne County residents a dime.
 It’s a proposed two percentage point increase in the city and county hotel-motel tax, and it deserves a Yes vote on June 8.
 If approved by more than 50 percent of voters, increasing the room tax from 8 to 10 percent would annually raise an additional $320,000 (the city share would be $38,000) amid an economy in which the cash is sorely needed. And tourists would pay every cent of it.
 The proposal — Measure B within the Sonora city limits and Measure A elsewhere in Tuolumne County — has broad-based support. It has been endorsed by the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce, the Tuolumne County Lodging Association, the Jamestown Promotion Club, the Highway 120/Yose-mite Chamber of Commerce, the Visitors Bureau and the Tuolumne County Business Council.
 There is no organized opposition.
 The hotel-motel tax increase would be the first such hike in more than 25 years, and would bring the local rate closer to those charged by other jurisdictions.
 Los Angeles and San Francisco, both popular destinations for Mother Lode travelers, tack a 14 percent tax to their room charges. Isn’t charging Angelenos and San Franciscans who venture to our hills a modest 10 percent fair play?
    Passage will also bring the local rates up to the median charged by more than 400 Calfornia cities, including Angels Camp (10 percent) and Mariposa (11).
    A caveat: Both Measures A and B must pass for the bed tax to go into effect. It was worded that way, said City Administrator Greg Applegate, “in the interests of fairness” and in having same rate countywide.
    Still, some skeptics may point to the 2004 defeat of a proposal to raise the tax from 8 to 9 percent.
    Poor timing, voter confusion and a long debate over whether the tax would apply to RV parks and campgrounds may have combined to undermine Measure J. Its 2010 counterpart, however, has eliminated or minimized these problems.
    The differences.
    Timing: In 2004, the local measure was nearly lost among a long list of November ballot propositions, which some voters typically reject en masse. The less-crowded 2010 primary ballot allows more focus on this local issue.
 Confusion: The hotel-motel or bed tax is legally known as a “transient occupancy tax.” This may have led some 2004 voters to erroneouslly believe that proceeds would help transients, or the homelesss, find shelter. Proponents have stressed this year that tax proceeds instead promote tourism and go to the city and county general funds.
    RV parks: It’s clear this time. The 2010 tax would not apply to RV parks, houseboats and campgrounds.
    As they did in 2004, some will vote against the measure simply because it’s a tax.
    But consider this: A quarter of hotel-motel tax revenue will go to the Visitors Bureau and help spread the word on the charms of Railtown, Columbia, the Stanislaus National Forest, our historic Gold Rush towns, community theater and the spectacular gateway to Yosemite National Park. This will lure more visitors here, who will pay more hotel-motel and sales taxes, bringing us even more revenue at a time when it is scarce.
    Still, the best thing about raising the hotel-motel tax is simple: We residents don’t have to pay it.