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InsideNOVA: Hopes still alive for Arlington tourism-tax measures PDF Print E-mail



A decision on whether Arlington retains its ability to levy a hotel surtax to pay for tourism promotion, and the form that tax will take, will rest with the Committee on Finance in the House of Delegates.

Members of that committee let time run out without acting on a measure by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) to continue the taxing authority, leaving open the possibility that Arlington could be forced to scrap it at the end of June.

But still alive is a companion measure patroned by state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd), which won a relatively wide victory in the state Senate, and has sashayed over to the same House Finance Committee that declined to act on Hope’s bill.

As a result, the county’s legislative delegation and local political and civic leaders will be concentrating their efforts on members of that committee.

“We feel optimistic that the House will approve the bill passed by the Senate,” said Kate Bates, president of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, who termed the tax measure her organization’s No. 1 priority in the 2018 General Assembly session.

That was a view shared by Hope, who said he was optimistic about the chances of passage. And Arlington County Board Chairman Katie Cristol said local officials would do what they could to get the measure past the goal line.

“Now that the General Assembly is post-crossover, we are focused on supporting the bill that passed the Senate and getting it to the governor’s desk,” Cristol said.

In 2016, when the General Assembly last reauthorized the taxing authority for Arlington, similar bills by Hope and Howell won relatively easy – though not painless – victories in both houses. But lawmakers insisted on a two-year “sunset” clause, mandating that Arlington officials come back again in 2018.


The bills introduced by Hope and Howell this session each included a rescinding of the sunset clause, but the two patrons said before the session that they were willing to insert one if that was the only way to get the bills through.

The tax, which adds 0.25 percent to the cost of a hotel stay, brings in about $1.2 million per year to the Arlington County government, and must by law be spent on tourism promotion. According to state figures, Arlington garnered $3.11 billion in domestic-tourism spending in 2016, the most of any locality in the commonwealth.

“Our local economy and businesses of all sizes are strengthened by a healthy tourism industry, and it’s in our shared interest to have the necessary resources to promote Arlington as a destination for tourists from all over the U.S. and the globe,” Cristol said, pointing to the partnership between the county government and Chamber of Commerce in working to retain the taxing authority.

The tourism tax had been in effect for 21 years until 2011, when it was stripped away by legislators of both parties angered by the Arlington County Board’s lawsuit against the state and federal governments over high-occupancy-toll lanes on Interstates 95 and 395.

The legislature agreed to restore the funding stream in 2013, but the measure was vetoed by departing Gov. Robert McDonnell. The 2016 legislation was signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.