TOURISM and the Marcellus shale boom are two of the brightest stars in the West Virginia economy. But city officials want these lights to shine brighter on them.
Municipal officials want to be able to collect more hotel-motel tax from tourists and workers on drilling rigs. But revenue is off because of the unanticipated use of two exemptions in state law.
Casinos are feeling the pinch as they suddenly face competition from other states that have recently legalized casino gambling. To keep people from Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states coming, the casinos have begun offering free hotel rooms to their best customers.
"We use the comp system primarily to entice people to come and drive 40, 50 or 100 miles, and bypass casinos in their hometowns," John Cavacini, president of the West Virginia Racing Association, told legislators. "That is really the only advantage we have, to offer comped rooms."
Hancock County Commissioner Danny Greathouse asked legislators to allow local governments to collect hotel-motel taxes even if the casino gives away the rooms.
Greathouse also wants the power to collect hotel-motel taxes on Marcellus shale workers, who now enjoy an exemption from the tax if they stay at the hotel or motel for 30 days or more.
Some say lawmakers wrote that exemption into law in 1975 so they could avoid paying the hotel-motel tax on their rooms when they are in Charleston for the annual 60-day legislative session.
The exemptions were no big deal for most counties until drillers began showing up en masse.
But Pleasant Valley in Marion County saw its hotel-motel tax collections drop from $11,000 to $6,000 in six months, Executive Director Lisa Dooley of the West Virginia Municipal League told lawmakers.
Dooley said lawmakers should limit the exemption to government employees.
Giving legislators an exemption to a tax they imposed on other people is an unacceptable idea. State officials should feel the effect of the revenue measures to which they subject others.
And charging tax on rooms that casinos give away ignores a harsher reality. Companies do not finance hotels so they can provide rooms for nothing. The comped rooms represent a company trying to weather tough times.
Gambling and drilling provide golden eggs for the state's economy. It would look grasping to tax these industries just because they show signs of life.