Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Business

Vague law vexes Florida counties trying to tax online travel companies

TALLAHASSEE — A Leon County circuit court judge dealt the latest blow to Florida counties hoping to fill their budget gaps with taxes paid by online travel companies.

Judge James Shelfer ruled Thursday that Florida's 1977 law relating to county tourist development taxes is so ambiguous that he couldn't conclude that companies like Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity should be required to pay taxes on the marked-up price of a hotel room when they sell it to customers.

Seventeen counties joined in the lawsuit, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Seminole. A similar lawsuit is pending in Broward County, where the online companies are challenging a tax levied against them by county authorities.

The counties and four tax collectors, including Doug Belden of Hillsborough County and Diane Nelson of Pinellas County, allege that the companies have been withholding millions of dollars in taxes from counties for years as they buy hotel rooms at a discount from prominent hotel chains and resell them at a higher price to customers through their web sites.

The online companies, however, counter that they should not be subject to the tax because they are not hotels, just intermediaries stepping in to help the hotel companies fill rooms.

In three days of hearings, the counties argued that case law requires the counties to apply the tax to the product purchased by customers who receive the privilege of the service, in this case the hotel.

Shelfer said that he agreed that the tax should follow the tourist. But he said he was "troubled" by the fact that when the Legislature rewrote the 1949 tax law in 1977 to establish the tourist development taxes, it did not make it clear that the tax should apply to what the tourist paid.

"The problem I'm struggling with is trying to come up with what the Legislature has intended,'' he said.

Complicating that, he said, is that "the travel industry has evolved over the years, and it's in a process of morphing into something else,'' said. "And it appears as if that perhaps it's getting to be the dog rather than the tail."

The ruling is not expected to end debate. Another case is pending in Leon County circuit court involving the state's transient rental tax and how it applies to the online travel companies. Legislators have consistently attempted to clarify the law either in favor of the online travel companies or the counties, but not one of the bills has passed.

Meanwhile, lawyers for both sides expect to appeal the ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Comments
Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood in St. Petersburg, returned from his daughter’s Maine wedding this week with an exciting announcement of his own. On June 7 the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to sign off on him being on...
Updated: 5 hours ago
St. Petersburg’s Jabil expands in Israel with new innovation center

St. Petersburg’s Jabil expands in Israel with new innovation center

St. Petersburg-based contract electronics company Jabil announced Wednesday it has expanded in Israel by opening an Optics Technology Innovation Center.The 6,560-square-foot complex is in Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. "Our Optics Innovation Cen...
Updated: 7 hours ago
New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

OPEN NOW: BAHAMA BUCK’SFeel a shiver? Just in time for Florida’s sultry summer, Bahama Buck’s opened this week in Trinity with an avalanche of sno. The 2,346-square-foot island-inspired shop opened at 8815 Mitchell Blvd. with more than 91 flavors of ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Lee Roy Selmon's original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmon's original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmon’s, the restaurant that paid homage to the community icon who rose to fame as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and grew to become a popular civic leader, will shutter the doors of its original location on Tampa’s Boy Scout Boulevard in...
Updated: 8 hours ago
At Bay 3, developers of Tampa’s Armature Works transform old industrial space into new co-work offices

At Bay 3, developers of Tampa’s Armature Works transform old industrial space into new co-work offices

TAMPA — The name of the new Bay 3 co-working space at the Armature Works goes back to World War I, when the red-brick warehouse overlooking the Hillsborough River was the maintenance barn for Tampa Electric’s streetcar system.As the name suggests, it...
Published: 05/23/18
Comcast may outbid Disney for Twenty-First Century Fox

Comcast may outbid Disney for Twenty-First Century Fox

Associated PressPHILADELPHIA — Comcast may make an offer for Twenty-First Century Fox, potentially putting it in a head-to-head bidding war with Disney. Comcast Corp. on Wednesday did not provide specific details on a bid, other than to say that it w...
Published: 05/23/18
Brunch-based alcohol will be available at First Watch’s new Orlando location

Brunch-based alcohol will be available at First Watch’s new Orlando location

ORLANDO — The popular breakfast and brunch chain First Watch will be opening a new restaurant in Orlando that will add cocktails, beer and wine to the menu. The new concept restaurant, set to open on Memorial Day at 1448 N Alafaya Trail, will be 1,00...
Published: 05/23/18
Humana hiring 100 for phone sales, Medicare enrollment assistance

Humana hiring 100 for phone sales, Medicare enrollment assistance

Kentucky-based health care provider Humana is hiring 100 phone sales employees in Tampa Bay. The new hires will field sales calls and offer enrollment assistance for Humana’s Medicare plans and other products.The positions, which are being added to h...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Downtown St. Pete Ford’s Garage and Yeoman’s to open Wednesday

Downtown St. Pete Ford’s Garage and Yeoman’s to open Wednesday

ST. PETERSBURG — Ford’s Garage, a car junkie’s haven, has proven to be popular eatery across the state.Now it has a chance to drive customers to its seats in St. Petersburg. The restaurant opens its ninth location downtown Wednesday at 200 First Ave....
Published: 05/23/18
Target: New Tampa, Clearwater stores part of company-wide makeovers

Target: New Tampa, Clearwater stores part of company-wide makeovers

Target is renovating more than 1,000 stores by the end of 2020, including two SuperTarget locations in New Tampa and Clearwater.The Clearwater store’s makeover — which the corporation calls ‘‘reimagining" — just wrapped up, according to Target spoke...
Published: 05/23/18