County Seeks Renewal of Hotel Tax Surcharge

by ARLnow.com December 2, 2010 at 9:45 am 3,603 25 Comments

(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) Arlington, the top visitor destination in the state of Virginia, spends just under $1 million on tourism promotion each year. But if the county’s state legislative delegation can’t convince fellow lawmakers to renew the law that allows Arlington to collect those funds as a tax surcharge, the relatively meager tourism budget could drop to zero.

Arlington funds its Convention and Visitors Service through a 0.25 percent surcharge on the standard 5 percent hotel tax. Each year, the county collects $21 million in hotel taxes, or about $5,000 per room, the highest rate in Virginia. Suffice to say that given the hoards of tourists who stay at hotels in Arlington as a cheaper alternative to the District, the surcharge isn’t much of a hindrance.

But the extra quarter of a percentage point, despite having the support of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the local hotel industry, may be a tough sell in Richmond.

In an anti-tax, Tea Party kind of a year, Arlington’s Democratic lawmakers say that even passing something as simple as a re-authorization for Arlington’s hotel tax surcharge could be difficult.

“It’s going to be extremely challenging to get this bill through this year,” said Del. Bob Brink. “It has the dreaded T-word in it.”

Brink seemed to tacitly acknowledge that the county’s strained relationship with Richmond — caused in part by the county’s HOT lanes lawsuit, the Secure Communities opt-out fiasco and other slights — has also contributed to the degree of difficulty in gaining legislative cooperation.

“We’re in a very challenging environment, both fiscally and otherwise,” Brink said.

At one point board member Chris Zimmerman parted from the board’s stated position and questioned whether it was worth the legislators’ effort for a mere million dollars.

“Should this be one of the things we expend political capital on?” he asked.

In so many words, ‘yes’ seemed to be the response.

“It is going to be a challenge, but I think we can do it,” Brink said.

The current tax authorization expires on Jan. 1, 2012. Arlington will ask that it be extended for another three years. The approval requires a 2/3 vote in each chamber of the state legislature.

  • Crystal_Mikey

    Why bother advertising? Visitors to the DC area are going to find our hotels via search anyways. Besides, I have never seen an ad for Arlington in my travels…

    • Vinh An Nguyen

      I agree. It’s a waste of money to advertise.

    • Taxedtoomuch

      This is another example of your government ripping off businesses and you. $5,000 per room tax annually is absolutely ridiculous. It’s no wonder that the average government job pays almost twice the salary of it’s equal in the private sector. the private sector, known for being able manage costs, would never allow that. I’m just glad there is still enough private jobs left so all the government fat cat employees can suck blood from our taxes to pay their exorbitant salaries and benefits. You don’t see too many secretaries in the private sector making $120,000 a year, but on the government tit, that’s normal.

    • Jacobsen

      No wonder private business can’t stand this county.

  • PurpleFlipFlops

    Arlington is addicted to Taxes.

    • Blueloom

      That’s why we have excellent schools, fine protective services (police & fire), a great library system, wonderful parks, etc. “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, acc to Wikipedia.) I believe our county services are well managed and I am happy to pay the price to live in a jurisdiction with great services and close to zero corruption.

      Why don’t some of you tax-whiners give up a latte or two per week and contribute the money to the betterment of the place where you live? Or better yet, find a modest home or apartment to live in (who needs 7 bathrooms in $1.6M house??)so you can stop grumbling about property & other taxes.

      • Jason S

        But you aren’t paying the price, if you were paying the price, your taxes would be even higher.

        Of course, nothing in your post claims they are spending the money efficiently.

        • Blueloom

          No, I wouldn’t be paying the tiny extra tax on hotel rooms (b/c I live here), but I own a business in Arlington and pay business tangible (and other business) taxes. We also own a (modest) home and pay taxes on it (while the houses across the street are torn down & McMansions erected), are devoted users of the library system (both digital and print), and have put kids through the Arlington public school system. We feel that our tax money is spent wisely & efficiently, and we’re delighted with the community that results from the investment of these tax resources.

          • Paymoretaxes

            If you’d like to pay more taxes please send Arlington any extra money you have. I prefer to keep mine. Arlington doesn’t need pretty traffic circles, fake brick crosswalks, tree lined medians, paver walkways, paver medians, neighborhood signs, all of which require continuing maintenance costs to taxpayers. Arlington would not have had to raise taxes on the commercial property owners if it exercised something we in the private sector are forced to. It’s called spend within your means. Arlington doesn’t have to follow that strategy because they just raise your taxes and collect more of your money when they run out or when they want something. The problem with government is it never gets smaller. It always gets larger and larger. When is enough enough?

      • Let’s Be Free

        Schools, parks, fire & police are all equal or better in Fairfax County at a fraction of the cost.

        • cj

          Which fraction is that? 11/10? Last time I looked, Fairfax taxes were higher than Arlington’s.

  • James

    Actually, many of those dollars are probably not spent on advertising to consumers. The intent is to market to businesses (tour companies, group travel coordinators, private businesses, and perhaps most importantly meeting, conference and event professionals from corporations and other organizations). And believe me, other entities are marketing just as much or more.

    I’m an Arlington county resident and taxpayer and have a spouse in one of the above industries. I can assure you that competing interests across the country are marketing aggresively for this business.

    I don’t love the idea of a “tax” but at least it’s not one more thing for us homeowners to pay.

  • Let’s Be Free

    No reason why this should have to go through the County. Hotels and motels are free to fund their own cooperative to market services and most likely would do so if the tax surcharge were dropped.

    • arlnowcomment

      Marketing Arlington doesn’t just benefit hotels, it benefits just about all local businesses (restaurants, convenience stores, book stores, clothes stores, taxis, etc.) and it benefits citizens because of the other (not hotel related) taxes collected that come back to Arlington for local public works, without which perhaps citizens would be taxed even more than they already are. If you consider this, it doesn’t make sense to put all the burden of marketing Arlington onto the hotels, especially when industry wide decreases were around 25% in 2009 and not made up for in 2010. Hotels are still struggling, and probably Arlington hotels are struggling even more than the District (which has an even higher tax rate) due to lower name recognition and fewer convention/meeting type events. This is a modest tax and if it can help all these different constituents, it seems reasonable to at least consider it.

      • Let’s Be Free

        Arlington hotels are actually owned by REIT’s for the most part. Host Mariott REIT stock (listed as HST), for example, is up 42.7% YTD. Marriot International Corp. which operates and manages hotels/motels, its stock (MAR), for example, is up 48.3% YTD. The proposition that Bill Marriot and his heirs and bankers need to subsidized is an absurdity of the progressive, out-of-touch Democratic machine that runs Arlington County.

        The next time you see a tourist in a convenience store, or stopping in to buy clothes in Arlington VA, give me a yell. Your gnat doesn’t show up on that elephant.

      • S. Arl

        If the County would cease tearing down everything historic and put some “charm” into tourist areas, then visitors would want to come here instead of Washington or Alexandria. When my relatives come to visit, they stay in DC or Old Town/DelRay Alexandria to see the museums, historic homes and to purchase at unique small shops. They do not want to shop at malls that have chain stores that are everywhere in the US.

        • cj

          What historic site in particular do you miss? Just curious …

  • KalashniKEV

    The corrupt mechanisms of this county are going to have to learn to get by with less… or just die and go away.

    Somewhere in Arlington there is a person in an office marked “Arlington Tourism Director” writhing in agony at the fact that their SWEET gig selling umbrellas in a downpour is under scrutiny.

    • CrystalCity’er

      reading on your comments on this blog alternate between a) humorous and b) making me wonder if we live in the same county.

  • tuesdayschild

    Hmm. Is ArlNow taking an editorial position on the Secure Communities matter by calling it a “fiasco” in the above blog entry? Hmmm. I certainly agree it was a fiasco and an embarrassment for the county.

    • Making a big deal out of trying to “opt out” of something and then finding out that it’s virtually impossible to do so can be objectively called a fiasco. We’re not commenting on the policy position.

      • KalashniKEV

        +1 I would consider it a “fiasco” when a government entity wastes it’s time and money (a lot of it) in an effort to circumvent the rule of law.

  • LPS4DL

    Wake up, people. Do you think that suburban Maryland and DC aren’t aggressively advertising for the same tourist dollars?

  • Darwin

    “It’s just a little extra”…..”It’s just a small tax on this one item”….”It’s not a new tax we’re just letting the old tax break expire”…all these things add up to massive additional tax burden over time!!!!!!
    Americans didn’t tolerate this sort of thing at one time:
    Our generation likes to bend over and take it and then ask for more by re-electing these people.

  • KarenVasquez_AED

    Arlington County and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce just issued a joint press release. To read more, visit:


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