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Build it, and they will happily pay for it



When the 75th Legislature passed the venue tax law in 1997, then Representative Leticia Van de Putte was in charge of defending the car-rental portion of the bill at the podium — a duty that turned into more than eight hours of fighting off amendments. One she championed, however, was extending the taxing authority to counties as well as municipalities. The State Senator spoke with the Current by phone about the bill’s purpose, and the upcoming May 10 election to extend Bexar County’s venue tax to build a new performing-arts center, amateur athletics facilities, and other amenities. For more info, see “Welcome to San Antonio,” March 26-April 1, online at

`County Judge` Nelson Wolff, in his new book he has coming out this spring from Trinity University Press, credits you as being one of the people in the San Antonio delegation who realized the County could make good use of `the venue-tax` provision as well as the City.

Absolutely. If you go back in time, just look at some of the headlines from San Antonio six months prior to that. The City was having some difficulties. We had some council members in some trouble, we had the effects of the term limits ... My fear from this was that anyone who enters into a project like this would have to have the long-term planning ability, and I didn’t see that at the municipal side, so that’s when I put in “and county.”

The Judge also talks about how, prior to that, the County had not necessarily seen itself as a strong governmental organization.

No. I really felt that the leadership at the time — and understand, Nelson wasn’t there, I think it was Judge Krier was there at the time ... I felt the confidence, because the county, number one, runs the coliseum, so they already had expertise in the stock show and the coliseum advisory board, so we had a structure already set up within the county, and long-term memory on something like this. My fear with San Antonio was not that we didn’t have the intellect or the wherewithal, it’s just that when you’re doing a community venue like this — and understand, it was written as a sports venue, but it’s not — I mean, everybody thinks it’s a sports venue. It’s not. It can be any sort of venue. In fact, it’s a community venue. One of the first ones was actually to build a little barn in one of the West Texas communities, so they could have FFA shows.

Some of the literature that’s for the campaign to extend the venue tax this spring says the law requires that it only be used to build venues that increase tourism or tourist development.

It was tourism, tourist development, but that whole chapter was under the — what we were doing was amending the development corporation ... so the whole thing is about economic development. So even though it’s about tourism, it was about economic development.

We just did a story in which some local business leaders said, you know, we have to agree that these are all great-sounding projects, but we don’t necessarily think that they’re all really even very tenuously related to tourism. In particular `some of them` were talking about the amateur sports fields.

I don’t know if you realize how many regional tournaments — I mean any time you have a little basketball tournament or a little softball tournament, hotel rooms fill up, because it’s not just about San Antonio. These sports venues are used regionally and statewide and even nationally.

You’ve probably heard that Enterprise `Rent-a-Car` was at one point considering participating in a campaign locally opposing the venue-tax extension, but then decided that they were going to focus their efforts nationally, and nationally there was a bill introduced in 2007 that would curtail car-rental taxes for these types of purposes.

It’s very difficult for the federal government to forbid something that is the purview of state government. The federal government does not do sales taxes, they do income taxes. So if Enterprise wants to get a break from the federal government and do national legislation, the only purview that the federal government has is income. The states do sales tax. You remember correctly, we don’t have a national sales tax. That would be thrown out in a minute; that’s a tenet of federalism.

Their basic argument is that it violates good tax policy to tax a narrow group of citizens for a public good that benefits the community as a whole.

Well, and I think that what folks think is that, well, you know, they come in and they’re tourists, and yes, they rent cars, but there are some San Antonians that rent cars, if your car’s in the shop, or you want to go on a trip and your car’s not up to it. But `not` any more than hotels would be.

There are hoteliers that have similar concerns ... that you shouldn’t tax one segment of consumer for something that benefits everybody as a whole.

Well, why don’t you ask National that question when the Final Four gets here. They’re having to bring cars in. Yeah. No, they’re doing pretty well.

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