Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Too much secrecy in Airbnb deals

Overnight visitors who rent rooms in private houses through the online service Airbnb should be paying the same tourism tax as guests in traditional hotels. But a proposed agreement between Hillsborough County and Airbnb would make it all but impossible for local officials to determine whether this tax was being fully and fairly collected. The two sides should negotiate a deal that addresses Airbnb's entry into the market while also protecting taxpayers, and other counties should demand similar openness.

Airbnb and Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden have negotiated for months over a framework for imposing the tourism tax on Airbnb users. Visitors use the online portal to rent individual rooms or even entire homes, an increasingly popular option for travelers who don't want or need a full-service hotel experience. Homeowners say they like the opportunity to meet new people and make extra money. As with other services in the new sharing economy, such as ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, this commercialization of private, personal property has outpaced the law and created a host of regulatory questions. Belden is right in seeking to impose the tax. The collection process also needs to be enforceable.

But the proposed agreement, which mirrors contracts Airbnb has with several other large counties in the state, including Pinellas and Orange, would keep key financial information secret, making it virtually impossible for Belden to audit compliance. As it stands, hotels account for their tax receipts and provide detailed records so the state can audit their payments. State law exempts this data from public view, but officials have access to the information they need. The agreement with Airbnb would keep "personally identifiable information" of any guest or host property secret. Belden said that provision would bar him from knowing whether the service was collecting the right amount of tax.

There is no need for this secrecy. Belden's insistence has already moved the ball, as Airbnb reportedly agreed this month to strip confidentiality provisions from the Hillsborough contract. These measures, which other counties needlessly agreed to and violate at least the spirit of Florida's public records law, bar disclosure of "all discussions and negotiations" between the company and the government. The provision is so broad with Orange County that it bars local officials from even responding to press inquiries without Airbnb's prior approval. (The Tampa Bay Times obtained Orange's contract after the county cleared it first with Airbnb.)

A reasonable solution is for Airbnb to provide the necessary backup and for public agencies to continue protecting legitimate trade secrets. Belden is right that these contracts fall short, and it's time to demand better.

Comments
Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Published: 05/22/18
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18