It's not what the hoteliers in Houston wanted, but no matter. They now are stuck with the country's highest hotel occupancy tax.

It went up two percentage points this month, to 17% -- all to fund a brand-new baseball park downtown to replace the 32-year-old Astrodome.

The hike climaxed a series of events that began with a referendum last year promising that residents would not be charged for the stadium and that the cost would be borne by the tourism industry. Proponents spent more than $1 million in lobbying efforts, compared with only $170,000 by hotel industry opponents. Notwithstanding, the issue passed with less than 51% of the vote.

Opponents claimed the wording did not fully disclose what voters were deciding.


The Legislature then considered a bill to authorize the hikes. The good news is that the occupancy tax rates did not soar higher. The state Senate wanted a five-percentage-point gain in the tax, but the House opted for none.

The compromise bill, signed by the governor, established a sports authority and authorized the two-point gain plus a five-point boost on car rentals, to 15%; a $2 surcharge on parking, and a $1 admission surcharge at the ballpark. The sports authority then told Harris County it needed the money.

The motive for the tax was the threat that the professional baseball team's owner would pick up stakes and leave town -- as the pro football team did recently -- if the new stadium is not built. Shame on Houston for falling for this one.

The hotel industry's argument that visitors to its 425 hotels generally do not patronize sports events -- that the levy represents taxation without representation -- carried little weight.

Unless it overturns the hike, the county is in peril of losing conventions the way New York did a few years ago, before it reduced its tax.

Of course, the hoteliers are to blame, in a way. Not enough of them care about -- or want to engage in -- politics. Not enough of them know the names of their local legislators. Said one, "We're an ignorant, ignorant, ignorant industry when it comes down to politics." It sounded all too familiar.

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