Legislature considering a proposal to broaden the use of bed tax funds

Counties across Florida collectively bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in hotel bed tax revenue — but the uses for that money are limited.  Historic City News has reported when controversial organizations have used pressure locally to influence who the recipients of that money will be in St Johns County and what percentage of their “ask” will be funded.

Once again, a proposal is before the Legislature that could change that, opening counties to use the funds on other types of projects.  A bill filed by state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) could change the way Florida counties spend additional hotel bed tax revenue for public facilities, roads, and affordable housing.  It got its first reading on January 11th.

  • The issue: The tourist development tax, which is collected on hotels, motels, and other short-term rentals, comes with a lot of limitations — which the state’s tourism industry has fought hard for. Some counties see the pot of money brought in by the tax and think it could be better used for other items.
  • The history: Counties started being allowed to levy bed taxes in the 1970s, with the receipts only being used for promoting tourism or building things like stadiums and convention centers. Over the years, the allowed uses have expanded, but it’s still generally limited to public facilities and advertising.
  • What proponents of the change say: Spending money on “underlying infrastructure” — such as affordable housing for tourism industry workers or mass transit — would be good for the economy, helping spur growth of the sector.
  • What opponents say: Protecting the funding is a top priority of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, who have been defending the limited uses for years. They point out that other funds exist for things like affordable housing and transit projects.
  • Why it’s messy: While the Sadowski Trust Fund and the State Transportation Trust Fund are supposed to pay for those sorts of projects, the legislature routinely raids them to make up budgetary shortfalls.

Follow us for expected updates on this legislation.