MetroWest Daily News: Many favor idea for extra hotel and meals tax

By Paul Crocetti/Daily News staff
1/23/09

Cities and towns would welcome an increase in the meals and hotel tax for additional revenue, local officials say, though some worried it may hurt business.

Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday said he will file a bill to increase the statewide meals and hotel tax by one cent to generate $150 million for local aid. The legislation would also allow communities to levy an additional one cent on the meals and hotel tax, according to the governor’s office.

Patrick plans to re-file parts of the Municipal Partnership Act, which he originally filed in 2007. That act featured several opportunities for communities to gain revenue, including the option of levying additional meals and hotel taxes and the closing of a corporate loophole that exempts telecommunications companies from paying local taxes.

Marlborough Mayor Nancy Stevens said she supports the Municipal Partnership Act because of the flexibility it gives administrators to make good local decisions.

“The Municipal Partnership Act was really crafted to give a lot of options,” Stevens said. “No communities are alike.”

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, was also a supporter of the act when Patrick first filed it.

“Given local aid cuts and the economic crisis, I think we need to give more tools to towns and cities so these communities can protect public education and public safety,” Eldridge said.

There was initial resistance from the Legislature on the issue, but constituents are telling their legislators that they would like ways to increase revenue locally, Eldridge said.

In places such as Marlborough, which has a number of hotels and restaurants, and Framingham, with a lot of restaurants, Eldridge believes the taxes have a chance to raise a lot of revenue.

“I think this would help the communities tremendously,” said state Rep. Pam Richardson, D-Framingham, who is leaning toward supporting it.

Framingham Town Manager Julian Suso said he is in support of keeping tax money local since the town provides support services, such as police and fire, to businesses.

“Even if it’s a modest amount of revenue, we take no revenue for granted,” Suso said.

On the other side, leisure travelers will be the most affected by additional taxes, said Mary Simone, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott in Marlborough. Business travelers are used to paying higher taxes, Simone added.

Simone noted that Marlborough has become a destination for amateur sports, such as hockey. The city also gets a lot of travelers staying over because of its central location.

Simone advocated for the state to give some money back to the tourism industry to offset higher taxes.

“I would hope there is a little more reform before they pass something like this,” Simone said. “Tourism has been hit hard.”

State Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, whose district includes a number of restaurants, said he would like to hear feedback from his community on the issue.

“I know a lot of restaurants out there are hurting,” Fernandes said. “This is a concern for them.”

Closing the telecommunications loophole makes some sense, Fernandes added.

Additional meals and hotel taxes would mean more money for Milford, said Town Administrator Louis Celozzi.

Celozzi said he does not know yet if the Board of Selectmen is inclined to levy additional meals and hotel taxes.

“I believe cities and towns should have that option,” said Celozzi, who told Fernandes yesterday that he hopes the representative supports it. “Every little bit helps.”