On the Record: House District 35 candidates talk tourist taxes and how millions should be spent

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Hundreds of millions of dollars brought in by taxes on tourism is money that some say could go to critical needs, including housing.


Currently, the state will not allow that for Orange County, but in just a few weeks, one of two candidates vying for an open legislative seat will have the chance to try and change that.

We tracked down both the Republican and Democrat running in the House District 35 race to get their thoughts and got vastly different answers.

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Democratic House District 35 Candidate Tom Keen is pro-tourism, but also believes money generated from taxing tourists could be expanded beyond projects such as the convention center and other tourist attractions.

“The idea is that we want to make sure that we continue to support the industry that provides the money. So that’s a key piece to meet. But we should be able to do things like infrastructure,” said Keen.

Keen said he believes some of the money should go towards uses such as public transportation and told Channel 9 that he is in favor of allowing local officials to have broader use of money that comes from taxing tourists.

Keen’s opponent in the race, Republican Erika Booth, refused multiple attempts to schedule an interview on the topic.

However, after calling, texting, and emailing her campaign multiple times over several weeks, we finally got a statement from a spokesperson.

“I am comfortable with the current state statues in reference to TDT funds and do not believe they should be expanded.” said Booth through her spokesperson.

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The spokesperson also added that Booth is not supportive of current efforts by Orange County to levy a separate one-percent tax on transient rental facilities such as hotels. That tax is known as the Tourist Impact Tax.

The county is currently exploring whether the Tourist Impact Tax could be levied in Orange County on top of the Tourist Development Tax which already applies. The Tourist Development Tax is a 6 percent tax paid by guest who stay in hotels and short-term rentals. It has been in place since the 1970s.

According to state law, Tourist Development Tax revenue has strict allowable uses. It is generally used for promotion of tourism, capital construction of tourist-related facilities, and beach and shoreline maintenance.

Unlike the Tourist Development Tax, according to state rules, the Tourist Impact Tax could be used to purchase property in areas of critical state concern and to develop affordable housing.

Three counties are currently allowed to levy the one-percent tax on transient rental units. State law allows the tax to be levied in designated areas of critical state concern.

However, the only county currently levying the tax is Monroe County, which is the Florida Keys.

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Orange County has said they will lobby for changes to the Tourist Impact Tax to try to expand the counties authorized to use the tax and expand the possible uses of the tax.

Despite recent calls to lobby for loosening restrictions on Tourist Development Tax revenue, Mayor Jerry Demings says he is not interested in pursuing this.

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