Five Pinellas County commissioners showed leadership Tuesday in approving changes to the county's 5-cent bed tax. Amid a highly charged meeting, Commissioner Neil Brickfield deserves credit for crafting a compromise that maintains funding to promote tourism.
Brickfield split the difference between the status quo, in which the bed tax's fourth cent expires in 2015, and a proposal by the Tourist Development Council to extend it indefinitely. His compromise will extend the fourth-cent tax — which pays debt service for Tropicana Field — until 2021. That compromise ensures the fifth cent dedicated to tourism marketing can continue to be collected under state law. A decision about using the fourth cent to help fund a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium can be left for another day.
Other changes approved by commissioners wisely modernized use of the bed tax to include capital assistance for certain public or nonprofit tourist destinations. The Dalí Museum spurred the change as it sought $2.5 million to help finish its impressive new facility on St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront.
Some residents at the meeting, including tea party activists, argued against the tax extension during a recession. Such short-term thinking ignores that tourists, not residents, pay the lodging tax. Nor does it acknowledge that both the Dalí and baseball attract tourists who create jobs. Commissioners Nancy Bostock and Norm Roche offered their own parsed reasons for voting no. Fortunately, Brickfield and four other commissioners focused on the big picture and embraced a reasonable compromise.