Capitol Views: Edwards to sign bill putting Visit Baton Rouge tax on ballot

A spokesperson for Gov. John Bel Edwards says legislation that would allow Baton Rouge voters to increase the occupancy tax for certain hotels will be signed into law soon. Senate Bill 83 by Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, received final approval from the House Sunday afternoon.

By a vote of 64-23, representatives sent the bill to the governor’s desk. Hard-right Republicans, particularly those who take firm stances against taxes, voted against the legislation. Every lawmaker from Baton Rouge proper supported the measure, except GOP Rep. Rick Edmonds, who was among the 18 representatives who were recorded as absent. Edmonds, who attended Sunday’s meeting of the House, says he was unable to vote on the bill when it was debated. He did not take advantage of the House rules that allow members to later switch their votes—on the same calendar day—and he did not offer a position on the matter.

Paul Arrigo, president and CEO of Visit Baton Rouge, says the tax would generate as much as $2.6 million annually.

“I think that legislators understand the value of tourism and the economic impact that it generates,” Arrigo says in a prepared statement issued Sunday. “We’re always looking to bring more meetings, conventions, sporting events, and visitor-driven events to our area. This will allow us to accomplish that and grow the existing events that we have to bring in more visitors. These efforts will have an impact not only on East Baton Rouge Parish, but the region and state of Louisiana.”

Visit Baton Rouge, the city’s official tourism arm, would have the authority to levy the tax. It would also receive 50% of the proceeds, while the Raising Cane’s River Center would get the remaining half for renovations to the 40-year-old events building. Visit Baton Rouge, meanwhile, intends to use the proposed funds to bring in more conventions, “assume the River Center rental waiver” and address the financial responsibilities for the upcoming 2025 United States Bowling Congress Championships, according to a VBR press release.

The journey for this initiative, however, is just beginning.

“It still has to go to a vote of the people,” notes Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, who handled the legislation on the House floor.

Voters in East Baton Rouge Parish rejected a similar tax initiative in December.

—Jeremy Alford

Jeremy Alford will publish a daily update throughout the legislative regular session on Daily Report PM. Alford reports on Louisiana politics at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

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