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Monday, Oct 15, 2018
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William March: Fee or tax? Tampa, hotels fight lawmakers’ efforts to cut marketing money

Tampa and the Hillsborough County Hotel & Motel Association are fighting back hard against a lawsuit by House Speaker Richard Corcoran over what he calls an "illegal tax" on a dozen downtown and Ybor City hotels.

The city and the association say the $1.50 per night added to room rentals is actually a fee sought by the hotels themselves to create a "tourism marketing district" to promote tourism in downtown and Ybor City.

The city is involved, according to Mayor Bob Buckhorn and association Executive Director Bob Morrison, only because the county tax collector needed City Council approval to collect and disburse the money, hoped to pull in $1.2 million a year or more.

Morrison said because of possible hotel ownership changes over time, creating and running the district wouldn’t be possible without a government structure involved.

But Corcoran charges it’s a tax that "spits in the face of the Constitution" because only the Legislature can authorize taxes.

Buckhorn said the hotel and motel association is handling and paying for legal defense against the lawsuit.

"I would assume they are" fighting it every inch of the way, "because all of us are viewing this as just one more power grab by the Legislature against local jurisdictions," he said.

In recent years, the lawmakers passed measures limiting or ending local government authority in areas including firearm regulations and locating cell phone antennas. They’re considering a law banning local tree ordinances.

The association has hired Robert Johnson, David Smith and Grace Yang of the high-powered GrayRobinson law firm to fight the suit.

In court filings, they’ve denied that Corcoran has legal standing to sue over an issue he’s not involved in, and accused him of attacking the home-rule powers of local government.

They’re also fighting back against a move by Corcoran to subpoena records from the association concerning the proposed district.

Association Executive Director Bob Morrison said it would be the first such district in Florida, but they’re common in other states.

Joe Redner backs Bob Buesing in Senate race

Among the surge of filers for local county and legislative seats this week, one name was missing — Bob Buesing, who’s considering another race against state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.

If Buesing does run, he won’t have one problem he had battling Young in 2016. Joe Redner, who ran as a no-party candidate then, taking almost 10 percent of the vote, says he isn’t going to run again. In fact, he’s given $9,000 to Buesing’s political committee.

Buesing is still acting like a candidate. He has raised more than $100,000 for the committee since the 2016 election.

But he said he’s still not ready to pull the trigger, even though the beginning of the election year — coinciding with the beginning of a campaign finance reporting period — is a time candidates commonly choose to crank up campaigns.

Why not?

"A lot of people need to be fully on board to make this the kind of race it ought to be," he said.

Buckhorn for state Senate? Nope

Yes, people have been asking Buckhorn if he’d be interested in running against Young.

Some local Democratic insiders see it as a way the party could get a candidate with big name recognition, while Buckhorn could keep his political career alive. After deciding not to run for governor, he appears to have no obvious political next step.

But no. Too much of a step down in responsibility, authority and pay.

"I’ve told them in no uncertain terms I’m not interested," Buckhorn said.

Shawn Harrison kicks off session with five bills

Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, will hold a Tallahassee fundraiser Monday night hosted by top legislative leaders including Corcoran and Corcoran’s three likely successors as House speaker. Monday is the last possible moment before the prohibition on lawmakers raising money during the legislative session kicks in Tuesday morning.

Harrison will talk about five bills he’s filed:

• Preventing insurance companies from requiring that patients try cheaper treatments before covering physician-prescribed treatments, which he’s unsuccessfully proposed twice before.

• Preventing credit reporting agencies from charging fees to freeze credit accounts.

• Halting price-gouging by boat towing companies.

• Making a priority of restoring power to nursing homes after outages.

• Exempting law officers in unmarked cars from tolls.

Contact William March at [email protected]

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