The other day when I checked out of my hotel in Minneapolis I saw that the bill included a “bed tax.” I think the tax came to $17.98, or some odd number like that.
Bed taxes are just another way for municipalities to raise revenue — I get that. Minneapolis isn’t alone; you see bed taxes in lots of places. Sometimes they are levied for specific projects, like building a sports stadium or supporting local arts, and sometimes they just go into the city’s general fund. Either way, they’re smart taxes from a political standpoint. You don’t tax the residents who have voting power, all of whom have their own beds; instead, you fleece the business traveler who’s just in town for the night and needs to rent a bed. And most business travelers aren’t going to get bent out of shape for paying another $17.98, or $22.37, or whatever the “bed tax” is — especially when it’s combined with a “state occupancy tax” and, in some jurisdictions, a “hospitality tax” or other random taxes that are attached to hotel bills.
It’s all an accepted part of doing business for state and local governments, but as I looked at my bill it got me to thinking. What if the bed tax were calculated on the size and quality of the bed — say, as determined by certified “bed inspectors”? If I’m going to be taxed for a bed, shouldn’t some government flunky be assessing whether it’s truly tax-worthy? Shouldn’t a king-sized bed with a nice firm mattress and crisp, clean sheets pay more of a bed tax than an aging queen with a sagging mattress that you sink into and that causes you to wake up with a backache? And how should the number and utility of pillows that need to be tossed onto the floor enter into the taxation equation?
For that matter, perhaps the “hospitality tax” should be based on how much hospitality the weary traveler actually receives from locals. If you had a hospitality inspector making judgments on appropriate tax levels, you might encourage some places to up their game in the welcoming department. New York City, I’m looking at you!