Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, sent a second letter to Attorney General Pam Bondi today on Tuesday again urging her to pursue legal action to collect unpaid sales taxes from online travel sellers. Kriseman also scolded Bondi for not responding to his first letter to her.
"I believe it is protocol for elected officials to respond to each other's communications," Kriseman wrote. He goes on to express disappointment that Bondi and the Cabinet last week asked the Department of Revenue to seek public input and clarify how a 1949 rule spelling out how to tax hotel room transactions should apply to Internet sales.
"The current law is not in need of clarification," Kriseman wrote. "No public input or legislative action is needed unless your objective is to revise the statue to give thes eonline companies a tax exemption and to let them of fthe hook for past unpaid taxes."
At issue is whether online travel companies such as Expedia, Travelocity, and their partners, should impose a sales tax on a portion of their profits. The companies currently negotiate with hotel chains to sell their unbooked rooms, then re-sell them at a profit. They charge tax on the portion they pay the hotel but not on the markup they charge customers, keeping the difference as part of their profit.
Cities and counties around the country have filed numerous lawsuits against the companies for failing to pay the full taxes owed. A Georgia judge recently released documents that show that since 2003 Expedia and other online travel companies acknowledged they owed taxes but avoided paying them as they tried to persuade legislators to exempt them from the levy. Here's the entire Kriseman letter.