Baker backs tax on private room rentals, Airbnb


BOSTON >> A Senate proposal imposing hotel taxes on private homes and rooms for rent, such as those booked through the online portal Airbnb, gained the support of Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday.

"We would sign that," Gov. Charlie Baker told co-host Jim Braude during his monthly "Ask the Governor" segment on WGBH radio.

The legislation, passed by the Senate as part of an economic development bill, is under consideration by a six-member conference committee meeting in private to negotiate differences between House and Senate versions (H 4483/S 2435) of the jobs bill. It is unclear whether the room tax provision will be included in the final version.

Separately, the House version of the economic development bill includes a new mandate requiring non-profit organizations to pay property taxes on taxable real estate purchased by those entities.

While refusing to take a non-new-taxes pledge, Baker, a Republican, has taken a dim view of new taxes, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo has not shown an appetite for tax hikes since 2013 when the Legislature raised the gas tax 3 cents per gallon, the cigarette tax $1 per pack, and tried to subject certain computer services to the sales tax — before swiftly repealing the so-called tech tax.

Senators last week on a 10-29 roll call vote rejected an amendment sponsored by Sens. Bruce Tarr and Kathleen O'Connor Ives that would have scaled back the room tax expansion - exempting primary residences and homes rented out three weeks or less per year.

Democrat Sens. Michael Moore, Michael Rush, James Timilty and O'Connor Ives joined the chamber's six Republicans in supporting the failed amendment.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association supports levying the tax on private rentals, saying it would provide "new revenues" and noting no room taxes are paid to state or local government for the growing number of private rentals.

"Increasingly, private property is being leased as leisure and short-term rentals, a practice that has become more common with the expansion of the sharing economy and the advent of on-line booking companies such as Airbnb," the association representing cities and towns said in a statement. "These short-term rentals compete with local hotels and B&B companies, but are largely able to avoid the room occupancy excise due to the obsolete definitions in the law."

The governor indicated his support for the measure springs from an interest in fair competition rather than a thirst for dollars - a similar philosophical stance taken by some who support federal legislation to apply sales taxes to internet sales.

"When Airbnb was kind of a small, little and interesting idea it wasn't that big a deal but there's now a level-playing-field issue," Baker said. "And I think that falls into the category of creating the proper competitive environment."

The governor segued, referring back to a taxi driver who called into the show earlier complaining about soot and rust on the walls of highway tunnels under Boston Harbor, to make a point about another Internet-based business revolutionizing an older industry.

"Taxis pay a different amount to go through the tunnels than Uber and Lyft do. I think Uber and Lyft should pay the same amount that the taxis pay, and their vehicles should be marked so that it's possible for people when they collect those tolls to charge the same amount to them that they charge to taxis," Baker said.

A MassDOT toll schedule shows taxis pay $1.75 more than non-commercial vehicles for the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels.


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