Hotel tax bill heading to Wolf's desk

Greg Gross

York and more than 50 other counties in Pennsylvania will soon have the option to increase their hotel tax.

The House on Tuesday took the next-to-last legislative step when representatives voted 138-57 to approve House Bill 794, with all York County lawmakers voting in favor. Now all that's needed before counties can vote to up their tax rates is for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to sign the bill.

The bill gives county commissioners in 57 counties the option to increase the hotel tax to as much as 5 percent. The current state-mandated rate in those counties is 3 percent.

"They can stay at 3 percent. It gives them the option" to increase the tax rate, said Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, the sponsor of the bill. "Nothing's mandated in this."

Wolf will sign the bill once it gets to his desk, Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for the administration, wrote in an email.

Anne Druck, president of the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she's hoping to entice Wolf into signing the bill in York County, where its roots run deep.

York County Convention & Visitors Bureau President Anne Druck talks about  funding before a Pennsylvania tourism rally is held at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Locally: News of the bill clearing the House spread quickly through York County and was heralded by commissioners and tourism officials.

"I think this is a great day for York County," said Doug Hoke, vice president county commissioner.

Commissioners have indicated they will approve increasing the rate to 5 percent.

"This will bring much-needed revenue for all our initiatives," said Susan Byrnes, the president commissioner.

Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016--Susan Byrnes, York County president commissioner. Bill Kalina photo

County tourism officials project a revenue increase of more than $1 million, bringing the total to $3.1 million yearly if the rate is increased to 5 percent. About $800,000 of that would be used for a tourism grant fund, which would be distributed annually to several organizations. Another portion would go to one of the largest tourist destinations, the York Expo Center. The remaining money would be used to promote tourism efforts.

The bill will become law as soon as Wolf signs it, and commissioners are expected to vote to increase the rate shortly after that.

"As far as I'm concerned, sometime soon," Hoke said.

The county instituted its hotel tax in 1998 and raised it from 2 percent to 3 percent in 2001.

Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016--Doug Hoke, York County vice president commissioner. Bill Kalina photo

Years in the making: The hotel tax bill, and its predecessor bills, have seen an often unsteady ride through the legislative process over the last eight years.

Druck said she was first approached by the county commissioners in 2008 to help get a bill passed. In 2009, commissioners formally asked lawmakers through an approved motion to pass a bill, Hoke said.

Hotel tax bills have seen numerous incarnations. A previous version of the bill nearly reached the governor's desk in 2014 but died in committee as the legislative session came to a close.

Gillespie penned his name to the most recent version of the bill when he became its prime sponsor. His bill was approved by the House in 2015 and sent to the Senate, where it was amended. Representatives approved those changes Tuesday.

"It finally paid off," said Commissioner Chris Reilly.

York County Commissioner Chris Reilly

Despite the long journey, Druck said the bill will not only benefit York County but also several others vying to attract tourists.

"What started out as a small step for York County tourism turned into one giant leap for tourism in 57 counties," she said.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.