By ANGELA JORDAN
After finally passing through the New York State Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on Dec. 28, vetoed legislation that would have imposed a 3 percent hotel occupancy tax on patrons of the two hotels in Harrison.
In addition to the town/village of Harrison, Cuomo, a Democrat, vetoed requests for a hotel occupancy tax, also known as a “bed tax,” from other Westchester towns and villages including the village of North Castle, Tuckahoe, Greenburgh, Mamaroneck and Port Chester.
In his veto message, Cuomo said that so far, the state Legislature has only advanced hotel occupancy tax bills like this for counties and cities, the village of Rye Brook being a special circumstance in 2011.
In Westchester, cities such as Rye, New Rochelle, White Plains, Peekskill, and Yonkers have the authority from the state to implement the tax.
“If there is to be policy change on this issue, it should be done pursuant to a comprehensive and determinate statewide policy as advanced by the legislature,” Cuomo wrote in the message.
“If the legislature sets such a policy, I will commit to reconsidering this issue.”
According to state Assemblyman David Buchwald, a White Plains Democrat, the veto was disappointing to many state and local elected officials, who were hoping that if this bill was passed, it could alleviate some of the property tax burdens felt by local residents.
“The local [Harrison] town board was unanimous about seeking this legislation,” Buchwald said. “The state Assembly passed this bill for three straight years, and this time the Senate passed it, too.”
He also said he didn’t see why Cuomo couldn’t have called for a comprehensive, statewide policy to be established for bed taxes while allowing these municipalities to impose the tax right now.
“Wanting to establish a more uniform framework is fine,” Buchwald said. “But that doesn’t explain why a community like Harrison shouldn’t be able to provide property tax relief by these means.”
Harrison Councilman Steve Malfitano, a Republican and former mayor of Harrison, described the veto as “terrible and short sighted,” and feels that towns and villages in New York shouldn’t be treated any differently than cities and counties on this issue.
“Why is it that Harrison residents should be given different treatment than residents of cities like New York or Rye?” Malfitano asked. “If you travel to many other cities and states, there will be a hotel occupancy tax.”
The bill was strongly opposed by members of the Westchester Hotel Association. Dan Conte, the president of the trade group and manager of the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, penned a letter to Cuomo on Dec. 16 urging the governor not to pass the bill.
Conte wrote that hotels in Westchester County already face a 3 percent Room Occupancy Tax from the county, in addition to state and county sales taxes. He said that by allowing these bills to pass in Westchester, the total tax on hotel rooms would increase from 11 percent to 14 percent.
“Our business relies heavily on annual bookings of large blocks of rooms by the businesses whose corporate travel planners could easily shift their hotel choices to adjacent markets in northern New Jersey and Fairfield County, Conn.,” he wrote in the letter. “All would be hurt as well as the local economy which benefits from the visitors they attract.”
However, this now means that the impetus to provide tax revenue remains on property owners in Harrison. According to Malfitano, Harrison could have potentially gained anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 in non-property tax revenue from the bed tax.
The tax on hotel occupants is considered an attractive option by elected officials as a means of generating revenue outside of the property tax; further, that revenue comes largely from non-residents.
State Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat who sponsored the bill along with Buchwald, said, “All these governments are under a tax cap, and so these communities have no relief from pension costs, fire, police, sanitation. So far there’s no plan to give them more state aid, so eventually something’s got to give.”
Conte could not be reached for comment as of press time.