Citizens push legislators to go after online bed-tax

St. Augustine and St. Johns County will be watching for a ruling in a lawsuit scheduled for trial next month between Orange County and the online travel website, Orbitz — however, yesterday, their Internet competitor, Expedia, reached a voluntary settlement with the county for an undisclosed amount.

When the St. Johns County Legislative Delegation convened a workshop to elect new officers and hear public comment last week, several citizens spoke in support of making Internet travel companies compete on a level playing field with licensed travel agents locally.

Brick and mortar travel agents in Florida are required to collect and remit bed tax based on the retail amount paid by the traveler — not the wholesale, discounted price negotiated by the mammoth travel juggernauts with the selected hotels.

Unfortunately, for city and county attorneys, over the objection of the mayor and two Orange County commissioners, the terms of the Expedia settlement remain secret; presumably, because Expedia is still in negotiation with other jurisdictions.

A state law is on Expedia’s side, according to a statement from the Orange County Attorney. The confidentiality agreements that were signed between the parties are likely to be enforceable; because, by law, the county is required to keep the amount of tourist development tax paid by any individual hotel confidential.

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