Legislature Corner: Bank Program Approved, Occupancy Tax Efficiency Act Moves to Rules

Sen. Samuel Carrion

Senator Samuel Carrión’s transformative bill to aid in the collection of hotel occupancy taxes will move forward for consideration by the Rules and Judiciary Committee on Dec. 9.

Bill 34-0070, the Occupancy Tax Efficiency Act, mandates that the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Department of Tourism enter into agreements with all major accommodation booking platforms to collect the 12.5 percent room tax and remit it directly to the Government. Finance

Committee members voted unanimously to move the bill forward to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary on Oct. 19.

“We will be making some amendments to ensure this legislation is very effective in streamlining the process by which this Government receives taxes on vacation rentals,” said the senator.

“This is not a new tax, but one that has been challenging to collect. We count on these occupancy taxes to support marketing the territory, local athletic programs and many other critical initiatives.”

Carrión introduced the Occupancy Tax Efficiency Act noting the large amount of money that was apparently being “left on the table” and the tremendous success of the Virgin Islands Government’s agreement with Airbnb. In 2017, the Mapp Administration announced a landmark deal with Airbnb to promote the territory and collect hotel occupancy taxes at the time a booking is made online. Carrión’s bill directs the Bureau of Internal Revenue to execute similar agreements with all the major “shared economy” platforms such as VRBO and others.

The Department of Tourism, the Division of Economic Research, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association all testified in favor of the measure’s intent, noting the exponential growth of vacation rentals being booked through these websites.

“We must continue to make adjustments to the way the world does business in 2021,” Sen. Carrión said. “It is important that the Virgin Islands keep pace with global economic trends while ensuring we are collecting the funds necessary to sustain and uplift the tourism industry.”

Carrión said he continues to look to the future in all the measures he brings forward, including Bill 34-0047, an Act requiring the Department of Agriculture and the University of the Virgin Islands to develop a Community Seed Banking Program. The seed bank will preserve rare, native and heirloom seed varieties, which could be lost to the Virgin Islands given the potential impacts of climate change, development, and natural disasters.

“This will not be a museum of seeds, but rather more like a library, where farmers and scientists can utilize these seeds for planting and study,” Carrión said. “I would like to thank my colleagues for supporting this measure, which will help preserve our agricultural and natural heritage.”

The senator’s bill was supported unanimously at the Nov. 18th Legislative Session.

“I have many other initiatives in the pipeline and continue to work hard on behalf of the people of St. Croix. I would also like to take this opportunity to remind my constituents that my door is always open, and I stand ready to respond to your concerns and ideas,” Sen. Carrión said.

Editor’s note: Sen. Samuel Carrion is a member of the 34th Legislature of the Virgin Islands and the chairman of the Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation.