Room Tax Plan Has Backing from Lodging Interests

June 9, 2015

A provision in the proposed 2015-17 state budget that would require local governments to use more of the room taxes they collect to promote tourism has support from tourism lodging interests, which have contributed about $34,000 in recent years to Republican lawmakers who control the legislature.

The measure was added to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget by the legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. The budget next goes to the full legislature for consideration and then back to Walker for final approval later this summer.

The room tax measure would gradually limit, starting in 2016, the amount of local hotel and motel taxes that local governments can use to pay for things other than tourism promotion, like police, fire, and other municipal services and expenses.

One of the lobbyists for the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association, which has supported similar room tax proposals in separate bills in past legislative sessions, is former GOP Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, who is the brother of Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau. Scott Fitzgerald acknowledged talking to his brother and others about the proposal.

Eight of the nine Joint Finance Committee members who approved the room tax plan received nearly $9,000 in contributions from the hotel and motel industry between January 2011 and December 2014. Two committee members were the industry’s top legislative recipients during the period – Rep. Dean Knudson, of Hudson, received $2,600, and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, of River Falls, received $1,955.

Scott Fitzgerald and the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, a legislative fundraising committee that Fitzgerald controls, received about $1,900 from the lodging industry between January 2011 and December 2014.

Top hotel and motel industry contributors to Republican legislators between January 2011 and December 2014 were: Cary Kerger, a Wheaton, Ill., attorney with Abbey Provident Venture LLC, $3,675; Timothy and Brenda Wegge, of Burlington, owners of Burlington Camping and Travel, $2,850; and Biff Hawkey, of West Dundee, Ill., an executive with Hostmark Hospitality, $2,500.