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Martiny’s bill could result in new charges for Jefferson Parish hotel guests

By Ben Myers | The Times-Picayune

February 11, 2014

Jefferson Parish hotel guests may have to pay a special surcharge on top of room occupancy taxes if state Sen. Danny Martiny’s Senate Bill 44 becomes law.

The surcharge, like the existing occupancy taxes, would benefit the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau, a nonprofit membership organization. The bureau received $1.1 million, about half its income, from the parish’s hotel occupancy taxes in 2012, according to its latest audit.

The surcharge would require approval by the affected hotels in a referendum that consolidates voting power with larger establishments – the number of votes afforded to a particular hotel corresponds with its number of rooms. The referendum passes with two-thirds approval, and the resulting surcharge is “an enforceable obligation of the guest,” according to the bill. Following a successful referendum, hoteliers not wishing to participate must resign their bureau membership.

The bill would dedicate new revenue to marketing, sales, public relations and other matters that “benefit directly or indirectly economic development, the traveler economy and tourism growth.” Martiny said it’s “debatable” whether tighter spending restrictions are necessary.

“I didn’t get into that issue,” Martiny said. “I don’t want to tie their hands, but in the same way I am not looking to create some type of a boondoggle.”

Martiny said he does not know how much money the surcharge would generate. The bureau’s chief executive, Violet Peters, did not return a call Tuesday.

Martiny’s bill is nearly identical to a law passed last year allowing the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau to impose a special assessment on hotels. The New Orleans bureau’s referendum “has just started,” and results aren’t expected for two or three weeks, the organization’s executive director, Stephen Perry, wrote in an email.

The size of the assessment is a key difference in the two versions. The New Orleans surcharge cannot exceed 1.75 percent of the daily room charge, and would generate an estimated $14 million annually. Martiny’s bill does not stipulate a percentage.

Tourism officials have said they will divide the money between the convention and visitors bureau, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. and French Quarter infrastructure projects.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, among others, criticized the New Orleans-focused law on multiple fronts. The surcharge is effectively a tax lacking oversight by local elected officials, and the decision to apply it to tourism marketing is “being made in a vacuum,” BGR said.

Martiny said he hasn’t put much thought into the Jefferson measure.

“It’s simply an opportunity for them to compete in the same way the New Orleans hotels are,” Martiny said. “I’d like to tell you I spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about how to do this. I didn’t.”

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