After months of debate, legislators passed the bill with acceptable changesA new statewide tourism tax just passed by the Oregon Legislature is expected to help create interest in the state but not by trumping the local authority of cities and counties.
During the legislative session that just ended, nearly every city in the North Coast publicly opposed the tax proposal, HB 2267, for several reasons. Chief among those was if passed in its original form the law would create a 1 percent statewide lodging tax collected from transient occupancy taxes, and prohibit cities and counties from raising and collecting any other lodging tax revenue unless it was spent on tourism.
"This bill took the entire session to negotiate," said State Rep. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, whose district includes Astoria.
She said after months of debate, legislators eventually passed HB 2267, but with enough changes that cities could accept it.
In August, with the end of the session nearing, Johnson said she had pledged she would not change her initial "no" vote on the bill until every city in her district said voting "yes" was OK.
Astoria City Manager Dan Bartlett said from his perspective local governments were able to get a bill that won't hurt.
"I think we got as much as we hoped for," he said.
The bill signed into law by Gov. Ted Kulongoski does set a 1 percent tax, but takes only 70 percent of that for statewide use, leaving local governments with the remainder.
Bartlett said he would have preferred to see about a 50-50 split or 60-40. The bill also changed from retroactive, meaning it would pre-empt any existing taxes levied by local governments. That would have jeopardized funding for Astoria's planned conference center and thrown a spanner in the works of many small, local governments supported by tourism.
Instead, the law will affect only those taxes passed after July 2, 2003. Bartlett said if for some reason the city needs to raise the taxes in its enterprise zone for the conference center, the new law allows enough tax dollars to stay locally to make such funding methods viable.
Other North Coast legislators, State Rep. Elaine Hopson, D-Tillamook, and State Sen. Joan Dukes, D-Svensen, voted against the bill.
Their votes were part of the minority of voices in the opposition against the revised bill. Senate vote was 23-7 and the House 47-6.
The League of Oregon Cities, one of the loudest critics of HB 2267 as it made its way through the Legislature, called the revised version "vastly improved" because of "the careful consideration and thoughtful discussion of local concerns given by members of the House Revenue Committee," according to a legislative newsletter by the league.
Todd Davidson, executive director of the Oregon Tourism Commission, said the new tax should raise about $8 million a year. He said the commission still has a great deal of planning left to do about how that money should be spent, but tentative plans call for an image campaign.
That would involve advertising, marketing and more networking with the travel industry to help make potential tourists put Oregon on their lists of places to visit.
"Our campaign is much more of an image and awareness," he said.
But, he added, "regional cooperative marketing programs" by the commission should get people interested in specific areas of the state. Davidson said the commission already airs several different commercials that highlight Oregon's diverse areas.
He said while the approved version is watered down from what the commission and Oregon Lodging Association had initially supported, "we still believe it's a very good bill and that it's good for Oregon."
Bartlett said Astoria and other cities will be looking for their share of statewide tourism funding.
"We just need to be vigilant and hold them to their promises," he said.