The first I heard of a potential hotel tax increase was at a chamber event either late last year or over the winter. It was a casual mention and a suggestion for a meeting to discuss the idea. My response was, “Well, I’m always willing to meet on any topic.” And then I quipped, “Sure, you know, I’m all about higher spending and higher taxes.” I’m not sure who dropped the ball. (It may have been me.) But the meeting never happened and I had figured that the idea had dropped.
Fast forward to May 1, 2017. It was the night before the House version of the budget vote. At our evening caucus (That’s the closed-door meetings of the House Republicans.), I was reviewing the latest amendments that had been adopted by the House Finance Committee. That is when I discovered the Clermont County hotel tax amendment. It allows the commissioners to impose an additional one percent lodging tax. At that time, I did not consider the possibility that I was not the only one out of the loop.
Early the next morning and the day of the House version of the budget vote, I got a call from an agitated township administrator wanting to know what I knew and when I knew it. I told him the above story.
Fast forward again to May 12, 2017. I attended a meeting with a group of officials from Union and Miami Townships. None of them, including our State Senator, knew anything about the secret hotel tax or the plan to build a sports facility until after the tax authorization was inserted into the House version of the budget.
While the Senate was debating the House version of the state budget bill, they created a number of amendments including putting some guardrails around the Clermont County hotel tax. That change was a great improvement from the House version.
After the package of Senate amendments were rejected by the House, the budget bill went to conference committee. That is where the horse-trading occurs and the deals are cut primarily between the Speaker of the House and the Senate President. The budget proceedings that I’ve described are all normal and par for the course.
While all of that was going on, the Union Township trustees created a strongly worded resolution and the Miami Township trustees crafted a letter asking that the authorization to increase the hotel tax get pulled from the state budget. That can be done in conference committee. In addition to working through normal channels, I took the issue directly to the Speaker. He pledged to work the issue but couldn’t guarantee anything. At the end of the day, the Senate President refused to budge and the tax authorization remained in the final version of the state budget. That issue was finalized June 27, 2017. The budget bill went to both chambers the following day for an up or down vote. No amendments are permissible after conference committee. The budget bill passed both chambers and is awaiting action by the governor.
Back in Clermont County, I went on a fact-finding mission and attended the June 27, 2017 board meeting of the Clermont County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). During that meeting and subsequent discussions, I was given assurances that all interested parties would be consulted before any plan is presented to the commissioners for a vote to impose the additional one percent lodging tax for the purposes of purchasing land for a professional sports facility.