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Court Declares Tampa Hotel Room Fee Illegal

Tampa hotel
Robert Neff via Wikimedia Commons
A judge has ruled that a tax on visitors to downtown Tampa hotels is illegal.

Last week, a Hillsborough judge struck down a 2017 Tampa ordinance that charged visitors staying at downtown and Ybor City hotels an additional $1.50 per-room per-night fee.

Then-Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran called the fee, which the city dubbed a “Tourism Marketing Assessment,” illegal.

He filed a lawsuit against Tampa in 2017, arguing that the room fee violated the Florida Constitution, which prohibits counties and municipalities from imposing taxes on economic activity without first getting the legislature’s approval. He said Tampa officials were “spitting in the face of the constitution.”

Bob Morrison, Executive Director of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association, said that the purpose of the fees was simply to help market Tampa’s hotels better. He pointed out that Tampa spends only $12 million annually on tourism marketing. In comparison, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area spends almost $60 million.

“We're willing to self-assess ourselves to be able to grow Tampa's and Hillsborough County's marketing capacity capability,” Morrison said. “And indeed, we are so glad to report that it did exactly as we hoped it would. The revenue generated in the first full year by our hotels was over $5 million worth of new business because of this specialized marketing.”

But Dominic Calabro, President/CEO of Florida TaxWatch, thinks that no matter what the purposes of the fee were, Tampa officials should’ve followed legal procedures and acted "in the best interest of the taxpayer."

“As well-intended as a fee or tax increase might be, there must be a lawful method to accomplish it and safeguards should exist,” he said. “That’s why following the rule of law is essential to protecting taxpayers’ freedoms.”

Morrison said they have two options going forward: one, Tampa can appeal the ruling, which is what the Association prefers. Or the ordinance can be altered.

“Even if the city decides to proceed with an appeal, we are still anxious and working with the city and evaluating how we might revise the current ordinance so that it meets the judge’s concerns and will be able to respond to any future concerns that might be raised,” said Morrison.

Tristan Dodd is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for spring 2020. He is currently a senior at USF, where he is completing his bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Production.
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