COLUMBIA — If the Missouri General Assembly passes a bill allowing the city to place an increase in the city lodging tax on a future ballot, the Columbia City Council probably will be in no rush to do so.
City Manager Mike Matthes and Mayor Bob McDavid have floated the idea of increasing Columbia's tax on hotel and motel rooms to 7 percent, up from the current 4 percent, and using the extra revenue to pay for a better terminal building at Columbia Regional Airport.
The idea would be subject to voter approval. Columbia Public Communications Director Toni Messina, however, said the tax question probably won't appear on a ballot until the city arranges flights to more destinations.
The Missouri House of Representatives passed House Bill 1431 earlier this month. The bill originally focused on extending a tax exemption for the sale of jet fuel until 2023. Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, shepherded an amendment through the House that authorizes Columbia to seek a higher lodging tax.
"I think the important thing is that (voters) realize that they have the control of this," Webber said. "If we authorize it, and the voters say no, then the voters say no."
The state Senate has yet to take any action on the bill. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, also emphasized that if the bill is approved, Columbia voters still would have the final say.
"It's not the General Assembly telling them what they have to do; It's giving the municipality the ability to take it to the people," he said.
City officials announced on March 2 that Delta Air Lines Inc. would begin offering daily flights between Columbia and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on June 7, while continuing two flights per day to and from Memphis International Airport. Messina said the city isn't finished looking for destinations.
"We're continuing to hunt for more places to fly to, and I think once we get maybe another two or even three more destinations, it will be time to see how well the terminal is serving the flying public and then make a decision about putting (the lodging tax) proposal on the ballot," Messina said.
"We certainly want to be able to attract more businesses to the area, and one of the things that is really important to businesses is their ability to get quick air service to the destinations they need," Messina said.
Representatives of the local lodging industry have opposed the idea of a higher tax on hotel and motel rooms, saying it could drive away customers.
Messina said there is a lot of room for potential growth in the number of travelers now that MU has joined the Southeastern Conference.