April 11 Issues Update
April 11, 2014
Dear WH&LA Lodging Member:
We have a few updates to share with you under completely different topics, so everyone is likely to find something of direct interest today!
- SIS Program (Blue Highway Signs). As reported previously, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) had opened up vendor bids on the Blue Highway Signs program, and had made a decision to select a new vendor based on their bid criteria. There were numerous questions and concerns raised both by the vendor not winning the bid and by the hospitality industry, reflecting a concern over possible sign cost increases, with WH&LA submitting a list of concerns both to the Secretary of the DOT, and to the Secretary of the Department of Administration (DOA) as they reviewed compliance with the bid process. We have now heard back from both officials that the bid process was in complete compliance with state requirements, thus eliminating the appeal filed by the former vendor, and they are proceeding with negotiating pricing with the new vendor. New this week we learned that Assembly Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee are asking this Committee to review this decision at their next meeting on May 6, due to the potential impact on Wisconsin jobs, as the new vendor is based out of state. In the meantime, the DOT is fully aware of the lodging (and other) industry's concerns over initially projected price increases. We will let members know as soon as further information is public.
- DOR Clarification on Tips & Gratuities. The state Department of Revenue (DOR) published a clarification regarding the taxable sales of food and beverages, which can be found here. In the April 2 issue of the WH&LA Insider, we included information from the IRS on its ruling regarding taxes on automatic gratuities; however, this statement covers the state sales tax application. Similar to the IRS determination relating to wages, automatic gratuities are subject to state sales tax.
- State Fishery Advisory Committee. We learned recently that there may be an opportunity for an additional lodging representative on this DNR Advisory Committee. While we have not received finer details on the Committee's plans or timeline yet, if any lodging member is interested in serving on this appointed Committee, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will contact the DNR liaison with your name.
- "Brand USA" Funding. Brand USA, the entity responsible for promoting travel to the USA, was created by the passage of the Travel Promotion Act in 2010. The funding comes from a combination of industry contributions and new visa fees the Act created. On April 1, the House Budget Committee, with Wisconsin's Congressman Paul Ryan as Chair, released its new comprehensive Budget Plan. This expansive Plan, approved by the House this week, included the elimination of the "Corporation for Travel Promotion" (the Act's name for what became Brand USA), calling for the ending of this subsidy and agency, because it is not a core responsibility of the federal government to pay for and conduct ad campaigns for any industry. Search for and contact your federal representatives here. Federal senators can be reached by emailing Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson.
At the AH&LA Legislative Action Summit on April 2, over 250 lodging industry representatives (including three from WH&LA) met with Congressional representatives to ask for re-authorization of Brand USA. Bipartisan bills have since been introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, entitled "The Travel Promotion, Enhancement, and Modernization Act," which would ensure continued authorization and funding for Brand USA to enable the USA to compete for international visitors with other countries. While more information will be coming direct from the AH&LA, members are encouraged to contact their federal legislators to ask them to support the re-authorization of Brand USA in the Travel Promotion, Enhancement, and Modernization Act, as tourism is the third largest industry in our state, and we need more international visitors to visit our state when they come to the USA.
- 2015 Federal Per Diem Rate Calculations. AH&LA has raised some concerns about the impact of last year's October government shutdown on reported rates that will be used as the basis for the GSA's calculation of new Per Diem rates for lodging. They are asking each state to advise of any areas in the state that were measurably negatively impacted by the government shutdown last year - relating to federal employee's travel, meetings that were cancelled, etc. If you can share any general information on a measurable negative impact in your area, please send an email to email@example.com so that we can consolidate the information before forwarding to AH&LA as a state. To be more clear, did you lose a lot of business, or did you reduce your rates, during the shutdown? We need both anecdotal and statistical information, if so. AH&LA wants to be sure that the GSA knows a more accurate picture of last year's lodging data before they set their rates.