Fla. groups at odds over meal tax

TALLAHASSEE Fla. Two hospitality industry associations have squared off over the suggested imposition of a 2-percent restaurant tax to help close the state’s $2 billion budget deficit.

Stuart Blumberg, president and chief executive of the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association, has proposed that the state levy a 2-percent tax on restaurants to ease the shortfall. His measure would exempt Miami-Dade County, the home of his group, since restaurants there have been paying a 1 percent to 2 percent tax on food and beverages since the 1990s.

The suggestion drew an objection from the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. President and chief executive Carol Dover told members of the Florida Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday that the tax would have "devastating" consequences for restaurateurs in the state, who she said are already facing rising food, labor and energy costs.

Dover said her group has been fighting for years to prevent an extension of the Miami-Dade restaurant tax across the state. She said Florida restaurants paid $3.9 billion in taxes last year.

“Singling out restaurants for additional taxation is ill-advised, unfair and counterproductive and could cost establishments and their customers millions of dollars per year,” she said.

Blumberg, in a telephone interview with Nation’s Restaurant News, countered that hotels in the tourism-dependent state are already doing their part financially for Florida.

“When the hotel industry has been carrying the burden with a bed tax throughout the years, maybe it is time for someone to look at additional revenue, so why not consider this?” he asked.

He said the tax he envisioned would apply to restaurants doing well over $400,000 annually in sales, so mom-and-pops would not be covered.

Blumberg acknowledged that his constituents may be doing better than their counterparts elsewhere in Florida.

“Miami is doing better than the rest of the state,” he told NRN. “We had 12 million visitors last year, and people haven’t stopped buying cups of coffee because of our tax.”

The tax proposal was not put to a vote by the Commerce Committee. Dover said she believes it would have been defeated. However, she added that the idea could gain traction as long as the state budget deficit persists.