by Jim Hopper
President & CEO,
Oklahoma Hotel & Lodging Association
At some point in our lives, we’ve all heard the saying, “There’s strength in numbers.” As trite as it may be, it’s true. Collectively, our work will always be more successful and impactful than our individual efforts. This could not be truer than in the arena of legislative advocacy.
Let me share with you a case in point. In the spring of 2018, during a session of the Oklahoma Legislature, a proposal surfaced (somewhat unexpectedly) to impose a $5 per room per night statewide hotel tax. As proposed, this $5 tax would be in addition to the state and local sales taxes AND in addition to any local lodging taxes already being collected on hotel room nights. Suddenly, Oklahoma’s two major metro areas would have been No. 1 and No. 3 in the nation in the percentage of taxes imposed on guests staying in our hotels. In some instances, it’s good to be at the top of the list – Can you say college sports?! – but in the area of taxes, that’s a list no one wants to top. This proposed $5 hotel tax was part of a larger package to fund a much-needed pay raise for our teachers. As we told our legislators, we were not opposed to fair pay for teachers; we just didn’t believe this was the proper way to achieve that goal.
When this $5 tax surfaced over a weekend during our legislative session, the Oklahoma Hotel & Lodging Association began the task of rallying our members, arming them with facts and talking points, and calling upon them to meet at the State Capitol and lobby our legislature to remove this tax from the package. We had a good story to tell, but we needed the help of several like-minded groups to make the biggest impact when explaining why this tax would be so regressive to our industry and to tourism in general. It wasn’t hard to imagine group and/or convention business choosing out-of-state locations at which to hold their meetings if this tax was approved. We were joined in our efforts by several state convention & visitor bureaus, travel and tourism entities, operators, and, most importantly, our partners within AAHOA. For four days in a row, these partners joined together at the Capitol, over 100 strong each day, to take our message directly to the legislature about why this tax was a bad idea for our industry – hotels, restaurants, tourism in general, and other partners who rely so heavily on a welcoming environment in Oklahoma.
Although the $5 tax was ultimately approved as part of the overall package of tax increases to fund the teacher pay raise, we were able to convince the leadership in both the House and Senate to take up a repeal bill immediately afterward to repeal only the $5 tax per night on hotel room stays. Honestly, at the risk of dating myself, I have been involved in lobbying in one form or another for more than 35 years. In all that time, I have never seen the legislature repeal a tax they have just passed. That was extraordinary and if I am being truthful, I would tell you I never thought that could happen. But we did it. We told our story with the help of outstanding partnerships like AAHOA, and we were able to convince the legislature to repeal this tax. We could not have accomplished this without working together and having this essential alliance with AAHOA and other organizations.
This story isn’t over. I’m pretty sure we’ll see this issue brought up again during the current session of the legislature. Our partnership will have to endure as we work together to tell our good story.