Room Tax Reform Fate Determined
March 14, 2014
Dear WH&LA Lodging Members:
It is now a fact that Room Tax Reform will not pass in this legislative session. While the session will not adjourn in both the Assembly and Senate for another week or two, and it is difficult to track the many bills that will appear to come out of nowhere and rush through still, the leadership in both houses of the state legislature has already determined which bills will be likely allowed on the floor for a vote, but more importantly, which bills will not.
The reality is that the collective oppositional voice of a group of very vocal local officials has effectively made Room Tax Reform a "hot" (controversial) issue in an election year, putting many legislators who would normally support the concept in a risky spot should they choose to go against local officials in their district. This translates into the decision that this issue would not be scheduled for a floor vote (and for Committee Executive Sessions) unless there was a definite majority in favor within each house. Both committees and both houses all intertwined, as nobody wanted to make legislators take a vote on this unless it could safely go through on all levels. A sufficiently strong majority vote in all four bodies was not there, so both houses determined, after numerous discussions, that the Reform bills will not continue.
The municipalities leading the opposition were very effective in generating pressure both in the state legislature and also within their own communities, choosing which facts to present, and being very visible through letters, e-mails, phone calls, in-person meetings, and in some cases the media. In many cases, the areas with the strongest opposition were some of the areas that inspired us all to try to reform Room Tax to get us all to the core purpose of growing local tourism. Rep. Sanfelippo, from southeastern Wisconsin (which contains numerous municipalities that keep 100% of room tax revenues), stepped forward to lead the opposition both through an amendment that would remove all the key reform components, and then again to persuade Assembly members to stop the legislation.
We have learned a lot about the tactics utilized this session, and have already started strategizing to offset these. We also have learned (at the suggestion of our legislative friends) how we need to have a major increase in communications from our members to legislators, so that they hear more strongly directly from the tourism businesses as well. The bottom line is that this session determination will only delay, but not stop, Room Tax Reform. We already have even had legislators step forward and offer to help us next session!
We owe significant gratitude to a number of people who went above and beyond to get to the stage we were able to accomplish this session:
- Members of the past and current WH&LA Board, who tirelessly sent numerous communications and testified at hearings, and other members stepping forward to help as well
- Our bill sponsors Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Garey Bies
- Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate President Mike Ellis
- Assembly Tourism Committee Chair Dean Kaufert
- Representatives Joan Ballweg, Mary Czaja, Rob Swearingen, and other bill sponsors who held fast in their support
- Our contract lobbyist partner Kathi Kilgore
There will be more information about future efforts after the elections. Thanks to each of you who took the time to contact legislators this session!