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editorial

Boston should avoid further tax squeeze on tourists

BECAUSE THE city’s sophisticated, relatively healthy economy puts high demands on limited space, Boston is more expensive than most of the country in a wide variety of ways. So it’s not entirely surprising — or alarming — tolearn that the tax burden facing out-of-town visitors is among the highest in the country as well. Even so, the finding by the Global Business Travel Association that Boston is behind only Chicago and New York in the tax burden on travelers should disconcert local tourism officials. And as the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, a key beneficiary of one travel-specific tax, assesses whether and how to expand, the effect of its plans on the travel tax burden should figure in its calculations.

The travel association, a trade group, determined that travelers to Boston typically pay $34.83 a day in taxes. That’s less than the $40.31 that visitors to Chicago pay, but more than in cities such as Seattle, Minneapolis, and Houston. These figures may overstate the problem, because most business travelers face sales taxes in their home communities.

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Yet Boston ranks second-highest, after Portland, Ore., in travel-specific taxes — like those on hotel rooms or rental cars — that are generally paid by visitors alone. A $10 flat-rate car-rental tax, which helps support the convention center, is a major reason for Boston’s high ranking. As expansion plans for the convention center take shape, and as officials work through scenarios for financing it, the travel association’s study provides a reminder that there’s some outer limit to how high tourism-related taxes can go.

The Commonwealth’s long-standing reputation as Taxachusetts is mostly a bad rap. But the taxes added to hotel and car-rental bills do shape how out-of-towners — particularly leisure travelers without expense accounts — perceive Boston. Patrick Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, aptly described the Global Business Travel Association’s study to the Globe as a “blinking yellow light.” Though it’s no reason to panic, it underscores that visitors’ willingness to absorb new taxes isn’t limitless.

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