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Resort tax held hostage

The latest news from the Tampa Bay Lightning is encouraging. The $110-million downtown Tampa arena that is critical to the team's future is moving forward. It looks as if this long-delayed project will actually happen. Too bad the same can't be said for Hillsborough County's plans to help pay for it.

The problem is in Tallahassee, where legislation to raise Hillsborough's resort tax is bottled up in a House committee. Unless someone exerts strong leadership soon, Hillsborough taxpayers will be left twisting slowly in the wind.

Raising the tax on hotel and motel beds is the least painful way to cover the bulk of the $3.5-million a year the Hillsborough County Commission has committed to the arena project. The measure has the support of Hillsborough's legislative delegation and the local Tourism Development Council, which administers the tax.

While a companion bill is moving ahead in the Senate, the issue has yet to surface in the House. Alzo Reddick, the Orlando Democrat who heads the House Tourism and Economic Development Committee, is holding Hillsborough's bill hostage in an effort to gain support for his own resort tax legislation.

Reddick's bill would give Hillsborough the money it needs. Unfortunately, it has little chance of surviving this session. It has run into stiff opposition from the Florida Hotel & Motel Association and the state Association of Counties. There's so little support for the measure that Reddick hasn't even scheduled a hearing yet in his own committee. If it does get out of the House, the bill faces a hostile Senate.

Still, Reddick won't let Hillsborough's own bill surface, even though it has a far better chance of passing. It's his bill or nothing, Reddick vows.

That is unfair to Hillsborough taxpayers, who would suffer if they are forced to cover the $1.7-million gap that would be left if the resort tax measure dies. It's time someone broke this unnecessary logjam.

State Rep. Peter Rudy Wallace, D-St. Petersburg, wields considerable clout in Tallahassee these days as the incoming speaker of the House. Wallace understands the importance of the Lightning and its arena project to the entire Tampa Bay area and has pledged his support to Hillsborough's efforts to raise the resort tax. Wallace should prevail on Reddick to end this harmful hostage situation now. Fairness demands it.

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