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The State of Texas Waiving Hotel Occupancy
 Taxes for Evacuees for Sixty Days

By Purva Patel, Houston Chronicle
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Sep. 8, 2005 - Katrina evacuees staying in Texas hotels are getting a break on their bills.

Aside from a federal aid program that reimburses hotels and victims for up to two weeks, the state has lifted the hotel occupancy taxes for evacuees for two months as of Sept. 2.

Harris County, the city of Houston and other taxing entities are also waiving the tax, which, when added up, can shave a considerable amount off a bill, or $306 a month for someone spending $60 a night in Houston.

To qualify for the exemption, evacuees will have to fill out a form and show proof -- anything from a driver's license to a license plate -- that they are from Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama.

All of the 55,000 hotel rooms in the metropolitan area were full last week, according to Joan Johnson, president of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Houston.

Local and state governments won't be losing any revenue they hadn't counted on, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said.

Although rooms were full last week, it was unexpected business for this time of year, and tax revenue the county wouldn't have seen had there been no catastrophe.

"Effectively that extra incremental income isn't anything we would have expected under normal circumstances, so we should be doing everything we can to stretch these people's dollars," he said. "They don't need to be paying taxes when they have basic needs like health care and food to worry about."

In Houston, 7 percent of the tax goes to the city, 6 percent to the state, 2 percent to Harris County, and 2 percent to the Harris County Sports Authority.

In unincorporated Harris County, the county receives 9 percent, the state receives 6 percent, and the Harris County-Sports Authority receives 2 percent.

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Copyright (c) 2005, Houston Chronicle

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