EDITORIAL: Let's get hotel tax done

York Dispatch

For nearly five years frustrating years, York County officials and our representatives in Harrisburg have been trying to level the tourism playing field in south-central Pennsylvania.

They haven't been asking for much — just the option of raising York County's hotel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent.

That's the same rate levied in our neighboring counties — Lancaster, with its Amish Country draw, and Adams, home to the Gettysburg National Military Park.

The tourist attractions to our east and west are well-known far beyond our region, and there's no reason York County shouldn't rank right up there with them on visitors' itineraries.

America's first capital, home to the Continental Congress and birthplace of the Articles of Confederation? Check, check and check.

But York County also offers so much more. Factory tours, outdoor recreation and hopping microbrew and wine-making communities actually pushed us ahead of Adams County in terms of attracting tourism dollars.

According to the most recent figures from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, York County ranks third in the nine-county Dutch Country Roads Region, behind only Lancaster and Dauphin counties' tourism industries.

Visitors spent more than $900 mil-lion in 2013, the most recent year for which numbers are available, according to the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau. That's up $20 million from the year before and a $200 million increase from just four years earlier.

And local tourism boosters accomplished this with fewer resources, thanks to the hotel tax rate disparity, than our neighbors.

Imagine what could be accomplished here if York County were allowed to levy the same tax as Adams, Dauphin and Lancaster counties and use the money to better promote our attractions.

Once again, a bill to do just that is making its way through the Legislature.

House Bill 794 recently cleared a Senate committee and is expected to be put to a full vote in that chamber sometime this month.

Like previous bills, it would give York County commissioners the option of raising the hotel tax by 2 percent. If it is signed into law and county commissioners approve the tax increase to the full 5 percent rate (and the current board has indicated it would), county tourism officials project a revenue increase of more than $1 million, bringing the total to $3.1 million yearly.

About $1 million 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.

Unlike previous versions that have died before reaching the governor's desk, HB 794 lets all counties decide whether to raise their room taxes to 5 percent.

This issue was a sticking point over the years for some lawmakers, who didn't think it fair that only York and a handful of other counties would have that option.

Actually, that makes sense — more sense than the long-ago decision that granted a select few counties the privilege of setting a higher tax rate in the first place.

So, yes — let's give all counties access to this economic tool.

But can we please just get done already, lawmakers?