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Arlington hotel owners want tourism tax back

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

Arlington County's business community is leading a charge to help the county regain the taxing authority it lost nearly two years ago after a public feud with the state.

Until 2011, the county was able to add a 0.25 percent tourism tax and 5 percent lodging tax onto the hotel bills of visitors, using the $1 million they raised every year to support the county's tourism promotion efforts.

But Arlington lost its taxing authority when state lawmakers, upset with the county over an unrelated matter, refused to renew it. Arlington had angered the state when it sued to block the construction of the then-proposed high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstates 95 and 395.

The lawsuit raised questions about the effects of pollution generated by the additional traffic on the health of low-income and minority families living nearby. Arlington also claimed the project would lead to more congestion on local roads. The suit was dropped in 2011, but state lawmakers still refused to renew the county's taxing authority.

The loss of the $1 million in annual tax revenue has business owners worried about how much business they've lost because of the lack of promotion.

"It's taken somewhat of a toll [on business]," said Rich Doud, president of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. "This is a highly competitive marketplace, and it can be hard to compete without some muscle."

The chamber is so intent on regaining the tax authority that it is hosting a fundraiser Dec. 12 to raise money to hire a lobbyist who would go to the General Assembly in January to persuade lawmakers to approve it.

"Maybe they feel like the score is a little more even now," Doud said.

County Board Chairwoman Mary Hynes said that while the board isn't part of the business community's mobilization on the tax issue, it is supportive.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who also represents Arlington, said he hasn't been approached about sponsoring the tax legislation but was open to seeing it through.

Arlington County generated the most tourism spending in the state last year, collecting nearly $2.7 billion, and "not to promote Arlington for tourism seems like a missed opportunity," Ebbin said.

Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, said she expects the business and hotel community to meet with the Arlington delegation in the coming months. She called the tax a "very important tool" in raising revenue while not taxing Arlington residents.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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