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Tucson, Arizona Hotels to Fight $1-a-Night City Bed Tax Hike:
Planned Increase Would Make Tax Highest in Western US

By Rob O'Dell, The Arizona Daily Star, TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 2, 2009--A group of Tucson hotel operators will embark on a furious last-minute lobbying campaign to torpedo a proposed $1-a-night increase in Tucson's bed tax.

Admitting they are seriously late in trying to shoot down the bed-tax hike -- the City Council is poised to adopt a tentative budget today -- the group is planning a blitz of phone calls and e-mails to council offices, along with meetings with council members as well.

The Southern Arizona Lodging and Resort Association, which met Monday to discuss the campaign, also plans to submit letters from high-profile meeting planners and directors of large tourist events -- such as the gem show -- arguing the bed-tax increase will cost Tucson their business.

Board member Tom Tracy, who led the meeting, said the group has only until Friday to get the bed-tax increase killed and removed from the budget. Final adoption of the $1.3 billion budget is set for next Tuesday.

"If we don't do this by Friday, we're not going to get it done," Tracy said. "It has to be done this week."

Tracy argued the increase would make Tucson's hotel taxes the highest in the western United States. The tax is currently second behind Denver's, Tracy said, but he added the new $1 increase would have Tucson "fly by Denver."

He also said the bed tax would cost hotel workers their jobs, furthering Tucson's bad economic situation. If the loss of business is large enough, Tracy argued, the city could lose more business than the $2 million city financial planners believe the bed tax would bring in.

He said the hotel business needs to stand up and be heard and make the council believe it will lobby hard for its interests, just as others affected by the city budget do.

"We have not had the political courage to stand up," Tracy said.

"They think we don't care enough to go out and vote or make our voices heard."

Several meeting participants noted that a controversial 2 percent tax on renters was dropped by the city after more than 700 people turned out to a public hearing to oppose the tax.

The bed-tax increase is one of many taxes the council unofficially agreed on to balance this year's budget.

Others include: 2 percent more on home and cell-phone bills and electric and gas bills, a 10 percent increase on water bills, a 3.5 percent increase in garbage-pickup fees and higher bus fares.

Visitors already pay 12 percent in sales and transient occupancy taxes plus a $1-a-night surcharge, which the current proposal would make $2 a night. That money is supposed to be split with the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, but the council has cut that group's funding while raising the bed tax.

Rick Grinnell, founder of Smart United Business Strategies, urged the hotel operators to have everyone they know or do business with contact every member of the council along with the city manager.

He said the group should overwhelm the council with phone calls, although he urged the callers to be respectful, responsible and succinct.

Council members said every group in the community needs to share in helping to fix the city's budget problems.

Councilwoman Regina Romero said she understands the group's concerns but said the city has already asked residents and employees to shoulder the costs to help balance the budget.

Councilwoman Nina Trasoff said she voted against the cut to the Convention and Visitors Bureau budget but supports the bed-tax increase because there are so many things that were tough about this year's budget. She added that the increase is needed.

"I don't see any other options," Trasoff said.

Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or rodell@azstarnet.com.

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To see more of The Arizona Daily Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.azstarnet.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

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