KEY WEST OFFICIALS EYE TOURIST TAX REVENUE FOR WORKFORCE HOUSING

Key West city officials could ask state lawmakers to allow tourist tax money to be spent on housing. FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU/Contributed

A discussion at the end of last week’s Key West city commission meeting raised a familiar topic:  could a portion of the tourist development tax, collected from hotels and other lodging establishments, be used to address the housing crisis?

The short answer is and always has been no, not without approval of the state legislature, which has previously denied requests for increased spending flexibility, most recently in March 2022. 

The tourist development tax, also known as the bed tax, funds the Tourist Development Councils (TDC) in Florida counties, including Monroe.

State law requires any county that collects that tax to spend it on capital projects, marketing and advertising that promote tourism in the county. 

At the June 21 city commission meeting in Key West, officials started discussing their priorities for the next legislative session in Tallahassee. 

“I suggested that since the TDC advertising budget is robust and revenue is doing well, could some portion of the advertising money be used for affordable housing?” Commissioner Sam Kaufman said. “Many of us struggle to fill positions and employees are leaving town. This is not sustainable, but the TDC’s advertising budget has never been bigger. People are asking how we can sustain this. Is there a compromise? Could we go to Tallahassee and ask, maybe start with a small percentage?”

No action was taken during the discussion, but a few commissioners were in agreement. Commissioner Jimmy Weekley suggested that the Florida Keys’ designation as an Area of Critical State Concern could be a key argument.

Mayor Teri Johnston suggested the city start working with Monroe County officials about TDC money. “I do think the TDC is a spot to discuss because no one will have a robust tourism economy if no one’s there to serve the tourists.”

Commissioner Billy Wardlow added that he’d also like to ask the state “to regulate e-bikes and scooters, and to regulate Uber drivers.”

Wardlow said the drivers “come from Miami, sleep in their cars across from the airport. They’re killing the taxi drivers. And I’m never a fan of more parking meters, but I’d say put meters across from the airport and make them pay.” 

Before the discussion continued much further, the commissioners took City Attorney Shawn Smith’s advice and decided to plan “a more robust conversation” about bed tax money and other legislative priorities when they meet with their lobbyist later this summer.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.