Internet firms still not paying fair share | April 30, editorial
Online sites help fill hotel rooms
The online travel industry takes issue with several points in this editorial. Judge James O. Shelfer found that, because it was unclear whether the Florida Legislature intended to tax the compensation made by online travel companies and other facilitators when it enacted the Tourist Development Tax, he could not find these entities subject to tax. The judge followed well-established rules of statutory construction that dictate that tax statutes must be construed against the government.
This ruling is good for Florida, tourism and taxpayers. The fact is that online travel companies receive discounted room reservations to offer on their websites because the hotels themselves have been unable to book those reservations at a higher price. Hotels would surely prefer to book those reservations themselves, but they simply can't fill them. And without filled hotel rooms, the state would not collect any tax.
This model, known as the merchant model, has been used by hotels, brick-and-mortar travel agents and tour operators for years. Tax is collected on the rent charged by the hotel the same way it is when the hotel books the room itself. Thus there is no "unfair advantage" or "bilking." Tax never was due on the compensation — whether a markup or a service fee — that travel agents and other facilitators received for their services. This is not an "Internet age" issue. A new tax will impact Florida brick-and-mortar travel agents along with online travel companies. None of our members have engaged in the practice suggested in the editorial of collecting tax from consumers and pocketing it.
State legislators understand that online travel companies aren't the enemy and certainly aren't "carpetbaggers." They play a vital role in marketing Florida, and they put tourists in rooms that would otherwise have gone empty. Online travel companies help preserve and grow Florida jobs. It's time the Times figured that out.
Joseph Rubin, executive director, Interactive Travel Services Association, Washington
Israeli settlements create new apartheid May 1, commentary
For peace to be achieved,
both sides must commit
Archbishop Desmond Tutu points out flaws and inequities in Israel's policies and recommends applying pressure to create change. Supposing pressure is exerted, will there be a party with authority with which Israel can negotiate?
In Africa, Asia, Polynesia and across the Middle East, there is terrorism, conflict and even genocide wherever the Muslim world meets the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu world. Whatever faults Israel has, its extended hand is always met with bombings of school buses and restaurants or worse. So no wonder it builds the walls and separate roads and outposts of "apartheid." They stop terrorism.
This situation cannot be fixed unilaterally by Israel. The Palestinians and the Arab countries of the area need to commit, with Israel, to an attempt to find lasting peace.
Looking at reality, will the Arabs ever be willing to accept a Jewish state in their midst? If the answer is "no," then the "apartheid" and war will continue. If the answer can be "yes," then Tutu and others of goodwill should help uncover that possibility and encourage and demand its fulfillment by both sides, not just one.
Robert Silverman, Wimauma
Root causes of economic malaise April 29, letter
What money can buy
Contrary to popular perception, no one begrudges the rich their wealth. The problem comes when the rich use their wealth to buy politicians, fund think tanks and lobbying groups, and help write legislation that gives them all the breaks and lets the rest of us pick up the bills.
It's not unlike what they said about Grace Kelly the actress when she became Princess Grace of Monaco: "It's nice to see someone who has everything, get the rest."
Steve Harden, Holiday
Florida delegates get remote digs | May 1
Raise your hand if you can afford a three-day stay at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor. If you can't, perhaps you feel as I do that Florida's Republican Party is out of touch.
To act haughty and indignant that you are "cast off" to Innisbrook like second-class citizens just because delegates have to drive 35 miles to the convention reinforces my belief that you just don't get it.
Jackie Brown, Palm Harbor
They earn no sympathy
Why is the Tampa Bay Times devoting front-page space to hotel assignments for the Republican National Convention? Or trying to make the assignment to a high-class golf resort-hotel sound like punishment for the Florida Republican Party violating primary rules?
If this is punishment, then it explains why there is so much corruption in government and politics: "You broke the rules, your punishment is high-class surroundings, 24-hour room service, spa treatments and 36 holes of championship golf."
It's pretty hard to sympathize with that. And it's insulting to think the Times thought the story was important to its readers. With all that is newsworthy in this region and across the world, outrage over hotel assignments is petty drivel.
John Fontana, Palm Harbor
Search called off for missing paddleboarder May 2
Require paddleboard leash
Neither we in the paddling community nor his family may ever know what happened that led to Jeff Comer's disappearance. We do know that he was not found with his board. That fact raises an issue. Coast Guard regulations state that a paddleboarder must have a personal flotation device affixed to his or her board unless in a swim or surf zone. There was no mention in the first report of there being a such a device on the board, or of a paddleboard leash.
Every surfer will tell you that trying to swim after a board once you are separated from it is most often an exercise in futility. Most experienced paddlers know how hard it is to swim fast after a board or boat while wearing a life vest. Add a paddle and it's impossible. Paddleboards don't sink regardless of a vest being there or not. Regulations for boards should include paddle leashes.
George Stovall, St. Petersburg