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Dells visitors bureau opposes summer sales tax waiver

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LAKE DELTON (WKOW) -- A bill that would eliminate the sales tax at dining and entertainment businesses has cleared the Assembly but faces opposition from advocates for one of the state's top entertainment hubs.

Assembly Bill 242 would waive state and local sales taxes on restaurants, bars, movie theaters, amusement parks, and arcades during June, July, and August of this year.

The bill's author, Rep. Pat Snyder (R-Schofield), said Monday the legislation is meant to spur business in some of the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It would give the people of Wisconsin, and even some of our neighboring states, more incentive to come in and patronize these businesses," Snyder said.

The bill cleared the state Assembly last week by a vote of 62-32. Six Democrats, including Madison representatives Samba Baldeh, Francesca Hong, and Lisa Subeck, joined Republicans in voting in favor of the measure.

However, the Wisconsin Dells Visitors and Convention Bureau is registered in opposition to the bill.

In a statement provided Monday to 27 News, COO Romy Snyder said the Dells already expects to have a surge in traffic this summer.

"Because of this demand, we do not believe that visitors will change their travel habits or be incentivized to travel simply because there is no tax being charged on some industries," Snyder said.

The Department of Revenue estimates waiving the sales tax during summer months would cost the state $159 million this year. The DOR estimate figured counties would lose out on $13.3 million.

Snyder said the cost of local governments missing out on much needed revenue - 45 percent of annual spending in the Dells takes place during the three summer months - would outweigh any incentive a lack of sales tax would give potential visitors.

"The revenue lost to counties and municipalities will be significant," Snyder said. "Both the City of Wisconsin Dells and the Village of Lake Delton have made financial commitments to maintain and improve their municipal infrastructures and rely on the Premier Resort Tax revenue."

Spokespeople for both the Kalahari and Wilderness resorts deferred to the visitors and convention bureau when asked for comment Monday.

Communities that are able to collect via the Premier Resort Area Tax, including Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells, would lose out on about $1 million under the bill.

Rep. Snyder said counties and municipalities could make up for any lost tax revenue once they receive their share of money coming via the American Rescue Plan Act.

"I can see their concerns and I would not want to see [the tax revenue] go away," he said. "But I do know many of the counties are receiving hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars coming in."

The Wisconsin Tavern League supports the bill. President Chris Marsicano said since taverns were one of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic, the tavern league would support any measure to help drive more traffic its way.

But for the bill to become law, it would need the signature of Gov. Tony Evers, who hasn't yet indicated whether he would sign off on the measure. In fact, Rep. Snyder indicated the bill may be getting a chilly reception in the GOP-controlled Senate.

"There hasn't been, let's just say, a stampede to my office wanting to jump into that," he said.