Airbnb wants to pay taxes, be reg­u­lated

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - VIEWS & VOICES - By Matt Mid­dle­brook Matt Mid­dle­brook is Hawaii pub­lic pol­icy di­rec­tor for Airbnb.

Since 2015, Airbnb has been en­gaged in con­ver­sa­tions with law­mak­ers at ev­ery level of gov­ern­ment to be given the abil­ity to col­lect and re­mit taxes on be­half of our hosts. Had we been able to col­lect and re­mit taxes dur­ing this time, our host com­mu­nity would have sent more than $70 mil­lion to Hawaii state and lo­cal cof­fers. De­spite other home­shar­ing plat­forms like VRBO hav­ing a larger pres­ence in Hawaii, Airbnb has been the only com­pany re­peat­edly will­ing to col­lect and re­mit ho­tel taxes. While cor­po­rate ho­tel chains con­tinue to claim they want a level play­ing field with home­shar­ing plat­forms, they con­tinue to op­pose the one thing that would do just that: al­low­ing com­pa­nies like Airbnb to col­lect and re­mit the very same tourism taxes that ho­tels pay.

As a re­sult, the state is miss­ing out on tens of mil­lions in tax rev­enue by not col­lect­ing tran­sient ac­com­mo­da­tions tax (TAT) and gen­eral ex­cise tax (GET) from home-shar­ing plat­forms, in­clud­ing more than $30 mil­lion from Airbnb hosts this year alone. Short-term rental op­po­nents have falsely as­serted that tax col­lec­tion leg­is­la­tion would pre­empt the coun­ties from en­forc­ing or up­dat­ing short-term rental reg­u­la­tions and would some­how hide the ac­cu­racy of taxes col­lected. Con­trary to claims made by groups op­pos­ing our pro­posal, the tax agree­ment in Hawaii has a num­ber of safe­guards. Un­like leg­is­la­tion, a vol­un­tary col­lec­tion agree­ment gives the state the flex­i­bil­ity to amend the terms, or ter­mi­nate it al­to­gether within 30 days, if the gover­nor or De­part­ment of Tax­a­tion deems it nec­es­sary.

It also in­cludes pro­vi­sions to en­sure the agree­ment does not pre­empt the coun­ties from en­act­ing or en­forc­ing short-term rental reg­u­la­tions. Hawaii would also have ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion that al­lows it to au­dit the taxes we re­mit to en­sure ev­ery dol­lar is ac­counted for.

Given these terms, it makes sense to al­low the state to col­lect tax dol­lars while the coun­ties con­tinue to work on their reg­u­la­tions and en­force­ment ef­forts.

The state has al­ready missed the op­por­tu­nity to col­lect tens of mil­lions of dol­lars; why wait one day longer or miss a dol­lar more? We are col­lect­ing taxes in over 350 ju­ris­dic­tions around the world, in­clud­ing more than 300 in the U.S. Lo­cal and state gov­ern­ments have em­braced these agree­ments as a means to lighten the ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­den as­so­ci­ated with col­lect­ing taxes, mak­ing it eas­ier for hosts to pay taxes and help pay for pub­lic pro­grams. In Chicago and Los An­ge­les, a por­tion of their tax rev­enue was used to sup­port af­ford­able hous­ing and home­less­ness pro­grams, and in Port­land, 100 per­cent of lodg­ing taxes from short-term rentals are de­posited into the city’s af­ford­able hous­ing fund.

We rec­og­nize Hawaii is a unique and spe­cial place. That is why we’re work­ing to bal­ance the eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties of home­shar­ing by en­sur­ing badly needed tax rev­enues are paid and that sen­si­ble reg­u­la­tions for the in­dus­try are en­acted. While busi­nesses don’t of­ten vol­un­teer to pay taxes and rarely ask to be reg­u­lated, we firmly be­lieve it’s the right thing to do for the is­lands, its res­i­dents and our hosts.

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