Lawmakers consider changing TDT taxes, which angers tourist industry
Image via AP.

'This bill kills local tourism,' a Destinations Florida spokesperson said.

House lawmakers are mulling over whether to reform the tourist development tax (TDT) and require voter approval every six years which is drawing ire from the tourism industry.

“There’s so many things the TDT touches and I don’t think legislators know,” said Philip McDaniel, the CEO of the St. Augustine Distillery who also serves on Visit Florida’s Board of Directors. “I honestly think they don’t fully understand the impact of what they’re talking about.”

But House Ways and Means Committee Chair Stan McClain is pushing to reform the TDT, as he said the tax is more lucrative than ever. In Orange County, where Mickey Mouse is king, the local TDT generates $30 million in one month alone for the 6% surcharge on hotel rooms, for example.

“Just from a perspective of allowing the taxpayers to have an opportunity to understand what the TDT tax is and how it’s being used, I think, is important,” McClain said during a Feb. 14 discussion on TDT that was part of a larger tax bill (PCB WMC 24-05). 

Under the proposed changes, counties not using the tax funds to issue bonds would be required to get voter approval every six years to renew the TDT. The 31 counties issuing debt from TDT proceeds would be required to pay off the debt first before gaining voter approval.

The hotel taxes throughout the state pay for marketing, cultural festivals and expansions at major arts and sports venues. Other counties use the proceeds for beach refurbishment and other projects to drum up tourism. The magic of the bed tax? It’s paid by visitors but benefits the locals, McDaniel said.

One Representative expressed concern about the financial hit potentially taking away TDT would leave on local governments.

“We’re using it to cover some of the beach refurbishment projects in Lee County — especially those after Hurricane Ian,” said Rep. Spencer Roach, a Republican from Fort Myers. “If the TDT goes away, that tax burden gets shifted to the county residents.”

But McClain warned that change is needed as some local governments are pushing to spend the bed tax money on other community issues unrelated to tourism.

“As I’ve sat in this seat for a couple of years, there has been a continuous onslaught of requests to use the TDT tax in ways that are not currently allowable in statute,” the Republican from Ocala said.

Orange County is rocked by skyrocketing housing prices, underfunded public transit and crowded roads. An ongoing local debate is whether the county can use some of its TDT money to pay for the community’s other needs. 

“Our service economy creates an environment where a lot of our best and brightest workers who deliver the most magical experiences struggle to have a roof over their head and food on their table,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando, who unsuccessfully pushed to amend the bill to allow more spending on affordable housing.

Other counties have pushed to spend the hotel tax on law enforcement.

Meanwhile, tourism advocates warned requiring six-year voter-approved renewals will have a far-reaching effect. 

Communities could miss out on major projects because they wouldn’t be able to pursue anything with a bonding period beyond six years, said Samantha Padgett, Vice President of Government Relations for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Jennifer Fennell, the spokeswoman for Destinations Florida, which promotes the state’s tourism industry, also criticized the legislation.

“Mandating local referendums every six years to reapprove tourist development taxes puts every entity that relies on those local tax collections into jeopardy. This bill kills local tourism promotion by making retaining staff and vendors impossible. Who will take a job that could be sunset every six years?”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


  • PeterH

    February 16, 2024 at 4:49 pm

    When you book a hotel in Europe you are not encumbered with ridiculous taxes, resort fees, parking fees, use taxes etc. you book the room at the advertised rate, furnish your credit card and you’re done!

    • Nate

      February 17, 2024 at 6:40 am

      Many places in Europe, and more so in the cities, do have a variety of tourist-related occupancy taxes. They benefit the locals by helping offset impacts These taxes go towards improving the sector and/or the destination, such as
      promotional activities, projects and plans for tourism development, measures and plans to improve infrastructure and tourism services, improvement and implementation of public services that affect the destination: cleaning, waste management, etc. Ridiculous to some but a vital need for others as tourist taxes reduce the burden on local residents and businesses.

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Comments are closed.


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