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Rules on tourism fund expenditures could change next year

Up until 2007, hotel/motel tax monies in Washington state could primarily be spent just on advertising.

That changed in 2007 with new legislation that permitted spending hospitality tax funds on tourism events sponsored by non-profit groups and leases on non-government property.

The law is set to expire in June 2013 - reverting to hotel/motel tax policies in place before 2007 - but Sunnyside and other chambers of commerce around the state are hoping to see that expiration date extended to the end of 2014.

During the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce's monthly membership meeting yesterday, Thursday, President Gerald Roy said if tourism funding laws return to pre-2007 regulations then it could change how the local chamber is operated.

For example, the change in law set for next June would mean the chamber could not use hotel/motel tax money to pay rent on the private property office space it currently leases.

As a result, a suggestion at a recent Sunnyside City Council meeting to house the chamber's office at city hall could become a necessity next year if state lawmakers do not extend the current hotel/motel tax regulations.

The change could also make it more difficult for non-profit groups to find funding to hold events that are geared to attract visitors.

Roy says chambers of commerce are lobbying the legislature to extend the sunset clause to the end of 2014 because many cities have not complied with a state mandate to report back annually on its effectiveness.

Roy claimed that to date half of the cities in Washington have not reported back to state lawmakers on the benefits of the current hotel/motel tax laws. In response, chamber groups are asking for an extension to allow more time for feedback from cities.

Pam Turner is the chamber's executive director, and she noted that Sunnyside is among the cities filing regular reports on impacts of current hospitality tax legislation. "We've done our part," she said.

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