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La Crosse Businesses Push Back On Proposed Tourism Tax

County Leaders Want To Use New Tax For Road Funding

"Road Closed" sign
Global Panorama (CC-BY-SA)  

Business owners in La Crosse are saying no to the county government’s plan for new road funding.

On the April ballot, La Crosse County voters will be asked whether or not they support a half-cent sales tax on tourism-related spending. The county board introduced the idea of a premier area resort tax (PRAT) in January as a new source of funding for roads.

Now, the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Mainstreet and other business organizations are encouraging voters to turn down the proposed tax on restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

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We understand that a problem in rural roads has to get paid for by everyone in the county,” said Vicki Markusson, executive director of the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce. “But we certainly understand that a downtown business, when they have customers coming in and paying that tax, wants to see that it’s going to help fix the road in front of their business.”

After surveying county businesses, the organizations found 60 percent of respondents were opposed to the tax, while 20 percent were undecided.

Markusson said local business owners know the county needs more funding for roads, but they don’t feel the PRAT is an equitable solution.

Chris Olson, vice president of the North La Crosse Business Association and owner of a local sports bar, said county residents would pay most of the tax money collected.

“They can call it a tourist tax, but it’s really not in my industry or in my business, because I’m supported by the local individuals,” Olson said.

The organizations estimate 74 percent of funds collected by the PRAT would come from county residents.

The group also worried the tax could drive away tourism, an alarming possibility as the city plans a convention center expansion.

“We just want to give us every bit of advantage we can to get those conventions in here, and we don’t want to give them a reason to look elsewhere,” said AJ Frels, executive director of La Crosse County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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