Enterprise taps former Purcell aide to lobby against convention center tax

Thursday, July 12, 2007 at 12:30am

Enterprise Rent-a-Car has hired Bill Phillips — until late last year Mayor Bill Purcell’s deputy mayor — to lobby against a suggested 1 percent rental car tax for out-of-town customers to help fund the proposed new $455-million-plus downtown convention center.

Phillips, who was recently listed in Metro records as a lobbyist for the company, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Metro Council members confirmed Wednesday they have been contacted in recent weeks by Enterprise representatives, though not by Phillips, and Enterprise spokeswoman Laura Bryant said the company — along with a coalition of several other rental car companies including Alamo Rent-A-Car, Avis Rent A Car, Hertz and Budget Car Rental — is indeed opposing the new tax in synch with a national effort against all such car rental “excise” taxes.

Metro legislation that would create the tax along with several other new tourist taxes, such as an increased hotel occupancy tax, is scheduled for the second of three required votes in the Metro Council next Tuesday. The ordinance would let Metro begin collecting the new convention center taxes even though the actual construction of the center still needs city approval.

Supporters of the Music City Center (MCC) say the pending ordinance makes exemptions for most local vehicle rental customers and say they think Enterprise is exaggerating the number of local customers who would be affected by the tax. Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said yesterday Enterprise has continued to lobby against the new tax despite an extra exemption — for long-term rental car customers — that MCC supporters added to state-enabling legislation for the new tax during discussions with Enterprise early this year.

But Bryant, speaking for the Coalition Against Discriminatory Car Rental Excise Taxes, which was formed in the past year to back pending Congressional legislation to ban all such taxes nationwide, said rental car taxes such as these are discriminatory whether they are levied on local and out-of-town customers together or out-of-towners solely.

She said pending legislation in Congress, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah), would definitely affect Metro if it passes because it would ban all such rental car excise taxes approved by local governments since the Congressional legislation was introduced in May. She said the coalition is not fighting normal sales taxes or airport concession fees.

“Discussion of the [Nashville] legislation has, in large part, been centered on the pledge that local residents will not be impacted by these increased taxes. However, the fact is the legislation fails to protect the Davidson County resident renting a car from paying the higher tax. The Council may easily remedy this situation by removing the rental tax component,” wrote Darren Gottschalk, the general manager of Enterprise in Middle Tennessee, in a July 2 letter to Metro councilmembers.

“Last year, Enterprise alone completed more than 33,000 rental transactions to local Davidson County residents at our 13 non-airport locations found throughout our community. These rentals, which were for personal or business purposes would still be subject to the proposed 1% rental car tax. In 2006 Auto Rental News, the industry’s major trade publication, reported home-city renting now accounts for 54% of the rental car market today, compared to 46% generated by airport sites.”

Spyridon, however, said he believes the 33,000 number is inaccurate, emphasizing the ordinance exempts locals who are renting temporary replacement vehicles and exempts out-of-town customers renting vehicles more than five days.

“We’re not completely surprised — I’d say we’re disappointed. I would tell you that [Enterprise] contacted us very early on, expressed their concerns, we met with them at length, [and] we had another meeting with them where we agreed in principle to compromise.”

“We’re sensitive to their concerns, and we’ve responded to their concerns to the best of our ability. … They’re a partner to the hospitality industry — they’re an important partner. They stand to benefit from this [the new convention center] a great deal,” Spyridon said. “And I would also add that when Nashvillians drive, they’re paying a lot of taxes in other markets.”

Bellevue-area Councilman Charlie Tygard, who sits on the Council’s Convention and Tourism Committee, said Enterprise representatives have contacted him about the tax but said he still plans to support the new levy.

“The [Music City Center] Coalition has worked hard to present a funding plan that does not affect average Nashvillians — it affects only tourists, conventioneers and visitors,” Tygard said. “There is a possibility that a small number of [local] people would be impacted by this, but … the whole formula is critical if this thing is going to work and if we’re not going to make mistakes as we have in other large public measures such as the stadium and the arena.

“It’s important to me that we identify any and all sources and spread it around to eliminate any possible impact on the average Nashvillian.”

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By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Leave it to the new council. I see little support from those that will have to pay for this folly (the taxpayers) and to ram it down our throats might take two votes. One to build it in the first place and the other to tax us for it.I personally would rather see it go in default then vote for a tax increase to pay for such an idiotic idea.I trust the car rental companies more then I trust our part time council people on the impact of this tax.

By: skeptic1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Granted that I live here now and I like it, but I cannot see Nashville as a major tourist destination. What is there to see downtown but the Ryman and a few honky tonks. A new convention center is NOT a tourist attraction. Neither is Opry Mills Mall. A mall is a mall is a mall. First we have to have something for a tourist to visit...something they will want to see again and want to tell their friends about. We don't have a beach, or mountains, or an amusement park. The council must be stupid not to realize that a new convention center is just a waste of taxpayer dollars.One word about rental car companies. Be sure to inspect the inside and outside of the car thoroughly. Note any scratches and dents BEFORE you leave their lot because some rental car companies will try to blame old damage on you.

By: rossrylance on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Nashville is a major tourist destination becuase it has civil war history, incredible topography surrounding the city, musical heritage and just good old fashioned people living here which is novel to some folks. That is why they come to visit. The Ryman, Cheekwood, Belle Meade Plantation, The Hermitage are just a few of the features of our area. No the Convention Center is not going to become a tourist destination but what it will do is to provide a reason for business people who want to come to Nashville for meetings it will give them a place to meet. It seems short sighted to not understand that other cities will get the business if Nashville is not interested. It is good for everyone in Davidison county to have such a building in the center of town.Also I do not believe that the convention center is going to use any of "our" tax dollars that is why they are trying to fund it through alternate sources like the rental car tax and the hotel motel tax.Make sure you get out and vote on August 2, 2007 and make a change for Nashville and Davidson County. Looking forward to seeing great conventions comming to town in the near future at our new convention center and meeting people from all over the world who will come and attend them at "our" great new building.

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 6:00

"Last year, Enterprise alone completed more than 33,000 rental transactions to local Davidson County residents at our 13 non-airport locations found throughout our community." I guess Davidson County taxpayers don't count.The absurdity of the whole situation is that Metro is collecting taxes for a convention center that may or may not be built. If the center is NOT built, will the taxes be returned to everyone who paid them? Sounds like a case where additional and higher taxes are a win-win situation, except for the people paying them.

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It is not unreasonable that Enterprise ask that this tax be applied only to the airport. That is the way it is being applied to taxis and shuttles. Otherwise, all taxis should have the fee applied.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

As every regular on here knows by now, I am opposed to the entire convention center plan. The current facility is well located and able to handle most groups. Gaylord has the ability to handle conventions also. So the questions are: Why spend that much money on something that is geared to a shrinking market, and that will sit empty after the next major terrorist attack? Why the location between the Gulch and Rolling Mill, breaking up Gateway Blvd and the budding neighborhood activity there, with a giant inward-focused building that will be a roost for criminals and panhandlers when empty? And why on earth are we giving Gaylord, one of our worst corporate citizens, 80 million in tax breaks to help them COMPETE with the new center? This whole project is so wrongheaded in so many ways only an idiot would support it. Oh, that's right, we're talking about Metro Council....

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

If Charlie Tygard wants his Bellevue Library so badly, maybe he should withdraw his support for this turkey. Then the money would be there. As usual, Charlie talks a good game but puts his constituents on the back burner when it comes to an opportunity to help big business. Nobody is buying that these users fees will even come close to paying for the giant White Elephant, especially if the rental car tax goes away.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I wish Enterprise luck. I am generally in favor of user fees and hope that the national bill fails. Dragon had a good point about non-airport rentals and Enterprise is certainly a leader there. However, I do rent cars at the airport and reserve online. How much bureaucracy will they need to make sure I don't get clipped for this fee?

By: ActiveCitizen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Members of the Metro Council will certainly have intense memories of Bill Phillips’ style of getting his way. His new endeavor as a lobbyist will be interesting to observe. By the way, the rental car tax is an increase of 1%...............one penny on the dollar.

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 6:00

You're right, Active. It is a 1% increase.To rent a Taurus from the airport costs $35/day. But add in the Concession fee ($3.24), the sales tax ($3.54), and the Govenment Rental Surcharge ($1.15) and the consumer price is $42.93/day, with the disclaimer that "Additional surcharges, local taxes, etc. may apply".After increasing the price by over 22%, why would anyone object to another "small" increase?

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Doesn't look like much up against 455 million and counting, does it? Especially with 80 million of it given away to help Gaylord compete. So I may spend 5 dollars more at the rental car lot per year- which already makes their assertions of no locals paying taxes a lie- but how much will all of us end up getting hooked for? You do the math.

By: ActiveCitizen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Let Gaylord build a Mega Center even larger than the McCormick in Chicago. Then the City can convert its undersized and ill-planned Downtown Convention Center into a facility to house all the illegals.

By: JohnGalt on 12/31/69 at 6:00

TYGARD has seen few taxes he doesn't support. If he stays in the council it will only be more of the same.