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Lodging tax bill dies in Legislature

Published 9:57am Thursday, May 30, 2013

The lodging tax proposal that died on the final night of the Alabama Legislature’s regular session could’ve paved the way for a road-building and renovation renaissance.
The bill, which aimed to levy a $1.50 (per room, per night) tax on all hotel and motel lodging in Elmore County, specified the funds would go for a variety of capital improvement projects, Commission Chairman Joe Faulk said.
Its failure, along with other measures submitted by the city of Wetumpka, never received an up or down vote, and the commission chairman said the process is largely to blame.
“By definition, in the Alabama Constitution, it’s very difficult to get any local legislation passed,” he said.
“We’re in a financial situation where we can handle these things, but ideally we wanted to have a revenue stream come in to pay for things as we go.”
Faulk estimated the $1.50 per night on the around 740 hotel rooms in the county would’ve netted up to $300,000 per year.
But with one disapproving glance from State Rep. Paul Beckman, the measure was dead in the water. Local bills require unanimous consent of every lawmaker who represents county voters.
Beckman, a Prattville resident, withheld his signature.
“Elmore County, if they want the lodging tax, need to go to the cities and make a deal,” Beckman said.
Millbrook’s Al Kelley and Prattville’s Bill Gillespie attracted the economic development and lodging base in west Elmore County, said Beckman.
“It was those cities, and the mayors there, that used their influence to get those hotels there,” he said. “It’s just plain common sense.”
Major upcoming expenses for the county include a multi-million dollar renovation of the climate control system at the almost 20-year-old Judicial Complex, sprucing up and expanding the 80-year-old county courthouse, and Elmore County’s share of the most ambitious highway initiative in state history.
That’s not even counting the looming expense of Gov. Robert Bentley’s Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, or ATRIP, which has awarded more than $12 million in highway grants to Elmore County. But the local match is 20 percent, which will cost millions.
The commission voted to take out a $10 million general obligation bank loan earlier this year to fund the projects. Faulk said commissioners hoped the lodging tax revenue would help pay down the loan more quickly.
“We’re thankful this minor setback is not going to hinder any of our plans and projects,” Faulk said, adding he’ll keep the bill lined up for 2014. “We’re in a financial situation where we can handle these things, but ideally, we wanted the opportunity to have revenue come in to handle them financially.”
It was the second time Beckman has foiled an attempt by Elmore County to squeeze revenue out of the burgeoning hotel district that surrounds Interstate 65 in Millbrook and Prattville.
Beckman complained that the bill was submitted too late in the process to stand a serious chance of passing in the perennial logjam at sessions’ end. Beckman, who stands for reelection with the rest of the Legislature next year, said he and fellow Prattvillian State Sen. Bryan Taylor “have a requirement” that they see a bill before the session and they want a unanimous resolution by the governing body involved supporting the measure.
The Elmore County Commission hosted the full Legislative delegation at a barbecue luncheon in February. But the lodging tax didn’t come up at that event, and two months of the session had passed by the time it was introduced.
Beckman described commissioners “coming to the Legislature trying to strong arm people” as it became clear that unanimity in the delegation would not be reached.

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