Although the Madison Mayor and City Council narrowly passed a two percent increase to the City’s Hotel Motel Tax, State House Representative Dave Belton sent shockwaves through the city’s leadership when he announced he would not bring the measure before the state legislature for final approval because “the vote was not unanimous.”
At the last work session on Friday, Feb. 2, Councilwoman Chris Hodges proposed that Madison Mayor Fred Perriman send a letter on behalf of the council to express dismay over Belton’s decision to overrule the “will of the council.”
“I am disappointed in the fact that when we vote for something the majority is not considered the will of the council by the legislature,” said Hodges.
Hodges also reached out to State Senator Burt Jones, who Belton publicly said was “on the same page” as himself to forgo bringing the tax increase before the state legislature.
Belton was pressed about the matter at a recent forum in Madison in January. According to Belton, both he and Senator Jones agree that the locally approved Hotel/Motel tax increase from 5 percent to 7 percent should not be brought for the state legislature this session.
“The state legislature does not take up these issues without a unanimous, or near unanimous vote,” said Belton. “It is my understanding that the people involved who created the CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) wanted to table this for a year to look at it. With a 3-to-2 vote, that’s not even near unanimous…You can hold another vote and when we have a broader consensus we can move forward on this.”
According to Hodges, Jones was far more ambivalent than Belton lead on, relaying that Jones told her he would not fight against Belton, but that this was not his call, but ultimately Belton’s decision.
“I don’t know of any other instance when something like this has happened, and neither does Senator Jones,” said Hodges to the council. “I am not asking the council to revote. Each of us votes their conscience and the vote is what it is, but as a body, I think we need to send a strong message that a majority vote represents the will of the council…Home rule is very important and that we have that authority. If we don’t, we need to know that we don’t. Why else do this if we are not recognized as the body for local control?”
Councilman Joe DiLetto, who voted against the tax increase, backed up Hodges proposal.
“I wasn’t for it. I was adamantly against the raise in the taxes, and I feel as strongly now as I did when we voted, but I would abide by the will of the council,” said DiLetto.
The council will discuss the matter again at the next regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 12 at 5:30 p.m. in the city’s meeting hall located at 160 North Main Street Suite 400 in Madison.
According to City Manager David Nunn, if the council proceeds to compose a letter to Representative Belton and Senator Jones, the exact contents will not be made public until after the letter is sent.
The council seemed to be resigned to the fact that the Hotel Motel Tax increase they voted for will most likely have to wait until next year.
“I don’t know that we can change their minds about this,” said Hodges, who hoped the local lodging owners and Madison-Morgan Conventions and Visitors Bureau (CVB) could come to an agreement in coming months. “In the meantime, this discussion carries on with the hoteliers and CVB for next year.”