An aggressive beginning

Several months ago I told you about the “travel tax,” which has come up in the news again because Mike Miller believes he has the Senate votes to overturn Governor Hogan’s veto and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce is behind it. Indeed, there’s a post on what’s billed as Maryland’s premier conservative website regarding this but I was stymied in reading it by some scam invitation to get a free iPhone 6 – and probably all the malware I can unknowingly download. I’ll come back to that in due course; in the meantime I will fill you in on what is really happening.

My local Delegates are telling me they predict a bumper crop of legislation, and they may be correct – as of this afternoon, 180 bills had already been pre-filed, with 114 Senate bills complementing 66 in the House. (My, my, those Senators are busy beavers.) One bill I did not see among them was the Wicomico elected school board bill, which I would have liked to see pre-filed. Unfortunately, I think that time has passed.

Even with all that work stacking up it’s likely the first things the body will take up are overriding vetoes, with my interest coming from two bills I used for the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project: SB340 (voting rights for felons) and SB190, the travel tax. Both passed with veto-proof margins in the Senate but neither had a comfortable enough House win – for an override the felon bill would need to pick up three votes and the travel tax one.

That one vote for the travel tax may come down to newly-minted Delegate Elizabeth Proctor, whose late husband James died in office earlier this year. James Proctor was the lone absent Delegate when the travel tax passed 84-56. Another new Delegate, Carlo Sanchez, replaced former Delegate Will Campos, who resigned after being a “yes” vote on both bills in question. As for felon voting, Proctor was absent while Delegates Michael Jackson and C.T. Wilson ducked the vote. In both cases, should opponents hold all their votes and pick up one the vetoes will stand. (Out of our local delegation it was the only Democrat delegate, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who predictably voted in favor of both.)

You’ll notice I basically ignored the Senate in both cases because all they need is the same vote they had the first time to override both vetoes – for the record, both our local Senators voted against felon voting but both favored the travel tax. So it wasn’t really news that Miller had his votes, nor was it groundbreaking to see the state Chamber of Commerce side with big business over entrepreneurs. It’s akin to the struggle between Uber and local taxi companies; oftentimes the Chamber backs the rent-seekers.

Now about that other website: it’s so funny because I used them as an example the other day. Apparently they have chosen to cast their lot with the clickbaiters of the world in the quest for advertising dollars. Self-promotion is one thing – and Lord knows all of us would like advertisers – but the ad was such that I literally could not close it, for a site which had all the red flags of being a virus-laden website. I have to question the integrity and wisdom of a site which uses those techniques.

Perhaps I’m not the biggest or best site around, nor is it lucrative for me in a monetary sense. But just remember – I’m not the one knocking you over the head with the annoying pop-up ads. All I have is a little tip jar and an Amazon affiliation, so if you get an Amazon gift card Friday hook yourself up through me.

More importantly, after the holidays it may be a good idea to ask your legislators where they stand on the travel tax (as well as felon voting.) Contrary to popular belief, it hasn’t been all fee and toll decreases since Hogan took office – if he were a purist he would have vetoed two other House bills which increased certain court fees. But encouraging entrepreneurship and making sure felons pay their entire debt to society before regaining their franchise should be no-brainers, shouldn’t they? There’s a reason a governor has a veto pen, so let him be the check and balance to an overreaching General Assembly.

A ‘loophole’ is only bad if the government thinks it’s being stiffed

May 17, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A ‘loophole’ is only bad if the government thinks it’s being stiffed 

For what is being described as “financial stakes (that) are small, (yielding) just $3 million to $4 million annually.” the Washington Post sure has its collective panties in a wad over the prospect Larry Hogan may veto the “travel tax.”

When I did my last look at the idea, I didn’t really know how much the difference was to the state. Now that I know it’s only a rounding error in a $40 billion budget. the prospect of Democrats (and, sadly, a handful of Republicans) trying to fill in this supposed budget hole looks to me like a “gotcha” moment set up by General Assembly Democrats who will turn around and bash Hogan for enacting the “travel tax” in four years – after all, if they can perpetrate the fiction that school funding was cut this year (never mind the increase of over $100 million) they can make up anything to tell unsuspecting voters that the sky is falling.

But it’s really funny to me that the Post considers this a “travel agent loophole” and “undeserved windfall” when it’s actually a legal transaction. Even the Post admits it:

Rather than collect sales taxes from the agencies based on the actual prices they charge customers for hotel rooms, most states have accepted a reduced payment based on bargain room prices the agencies manage to negotiate with hotels.

That’s as it should be, so it sounds to me like General Assembly Democrats have some sour grapes. The transaction in question is at a reduced rate – why should the state collect the sales tax on the full rack rate if the place of lodging offers the rooms first to a reseller at a lower price? There is no gun being placed at the proverbial head of the hotel or motel to sell the rooms to an online travel agency; they can go it alone and try to market themselves without a middleman. (Hence, loyalty programs and other perks provided by hotels who prefer to keep bookings in-house.)

But it’s obvious that many hotel chains prefer the assurance of knowing they would get something – a “something” that is about 60 to 70 percent of full rate – for a room which will be paid for many times over before the paint dries on the renovation or new construction based on future reservations already on the books. Chances are your room rate is really paying for the employees who check you in and take care of the rooms moreso than the bricks, mortar, and furnishings in the facility, and that factor can be adjusted easily by management. (To use a local and somewhat extreme example, just drive through Ocean City in January and note how many hotels and motels shut down completely for the winter. No one is there to pay for the bricks and mortar, so no employees save a caretaker and maintenance are needed.) So even getting a reduced rate from a travel agency which reserves the rooms just in case isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a cause for complaint by a state which hasn’t completely given up the attitude that “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine, too.”

Conversely, to use another traveler analogy, you won’t hear the Post (or any of their liberal allies) tut-tutting if gasoline prices go up and the state collects more sales tax as a result – no one there would consider that an “undeserved windfall” for the state. I’ll explain.

Should the per-gallon tab for gasoline go up another 50 cents (as it has over the course of the last few months, from about $2 locally to north of $2.50) the state will make up the $4 million “lost” by vetoing the “travel tax” in no time. A 50-cent per gallon increase, as we have already had, nets yet an extra half-penny to the state per gallon come July as an additional 1% gasoline sales tax increase takes effect then. Just based on that 50-cent gas price increase alone coupled with the 1% increase (to 3%) – hence, the half-penny – and assuming the state consumes 7 million gallons per day (probably still in the ballpark despite these old statistics), they will make an “extra” $4 million from what they could have anticipated receiving when 2015 dawned in less than two weeks.

Yet the Post will not throw a pity party for motorists – I guarantee it. Ignore their whining and leave the hotel room rate system be.

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