Briggs' Hotel Room Tax Plan Targets Tourism Surcharges

The agency that promotes San Diego as a tourist destination is in the crosshairs of a plan that could put it out of business — and fold all room tax funds into the city treasury.

The idea behind it is to raise more money to spend on public facilities and services.

It's not part of the plan, which is the brainchild of activist attorney Cory Briggs, but there are prospects for a game changer in the Chargers stadium standoff.

First and foremost, the concept calls for hiking taxes that hotel guests pay on their room bills and revoking surcharges that have been going to the Tourism Marketing District.

The surcharge fund was established by way a special election — one that didn’t include city voters — involving “weighted” votes favoring major downtown hotel owners

"It is a slush fund — period,” said Briggs. “What I'm trying to give the voters is a voice that they didn't have before."

Briggs insists there's plenty of room tax money to underwrite tourism promotion without the 2 percent surcharges.

The measure would eliminate them and boost the basic tax rate that hotel guests pay on their bills from 10.5 cents on the dollar to 15.5 five cents — generating a projected $75 million a year extra for city "general fund" spending.

As for the hoteliers?

"They should have to make the same case the lifeguards have to make, that the libraries have to make, that the neighborhoods have to make for their sidewalks and their sewers,” Briggs explained in an interview Thursday.

“They should be on equal footing with everybody else in the public. There should be no presumption that they get the money."

Briggs is putting up a quarter-million dollars in proceeds from lawsuits he's won to cover the costs of sending the proposed initiative to voters in next year's election cycle.

Meantime, backers of a hybrid stadium/convention facility the Chargers have proposed for East Village see an opening in the plan, if it passes, to serve that purpose.

"It does create a potential pot of money that the city could leverage to build a stadium downtown,” said Jason Riggs, chairman of the San Diego Stadium Coalition.

Given that the increased room tax would be a levy applying only to tourists, Riggs told NBC 7, “it seems like a pretty solid solution, something you'd have an easy time convincing voters to parlay into something like that."

Briggs was part of a court case that invalidated the hoteliers' surcharge funding scheme to expand the convention center.

On legal advice, they're declining comment on his proposed initiative — citing Briggs’ still-pending lawsuit against their surcharges for tourism marketing.

If the measure qualifies for the ballot, they could be expected to bankroll heavy opposition.

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