Bit by Zika, Miami-Dade hotel taxes in first slump since Great Recession

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Miami-Dade’s hotel taxes have declined at a rate not seen since a global recession slammed tourism eight years ago, straining a favorite pot of public money and raising the stakes for a rebound from Zika fears in 2017.

The ritzy Basel art fair wasn’t enough to rescue December, when hotels generated 7 percent less revenue than they did a year ago, according to the latest numbers from county tax collectors. It was the fourth straight month of declining hotel taxes. That’s the longest losing streak since 2009, when the county’s tourism industry was at the tail end of a decline brought on by the economic downturn and global financial crisis.

While hotel taxes constitute a small portion of Miami-Dade’s $7 billion budget, they subsidize museums, theaters and other cash-strapped institutions. They also provide the dollars needed to pay back about $300 million in county debt on Marlins Park, with bond payments mounting in the next decade.

“How worried should the county be? They should be concerned,” said Stuart Blumberg, the retired head of a countywide hotel association. “Because when they start looking at next year’s budget, they have to figure out how to cover their debt obligations based on a decline instead of growth.”

Miami-Dade’s hotel taxes, which max out at 6 percent on a guest’s bill, were expected to generate about $125 million in 2017. That’s a pittance compared to the $2 billion Miami-Dade earns from property and sales taxes, but still can make the difference between an austere budget and a flush one. Hotel taxes were growing so quickly in recent years that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez drained about $50 million worth of reserves to fill budget holes in 2013 and 2014.

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