Texas towns can now use hotel occupancy tax (HOT) dollars to reduce light pollution and preserve the dark skies above, all thanks to a Driftwood-area legislator.
Earlier this month, House Bill 4158, authored by State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood), became law after it passed through Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. HB 4158 allows small cities to use revenue from their municipal hotel occupancy tax (HOT) for the construction and maintenance of infrastructure that reduces light pollution and sky glow.
In Hays County, the bill directly affects the cities of Dripping Springs and Wimberley, which are two of three International Dark Sky cities in Texas.
“Hays and Blanco counties are world class astrotourism destinations, and because of that our communities have invested in protecting our night skies,” Zwiener said. “I’m delighted that my bill will help dark skies cities like Blanco, Dripping Springs and Wimberley to continue shining.”
Under current law, HOT funds are limited on how they can be spent. Local HOT revenue can only be used to directly promote tourism and the convention/hotel industry, according to the Texas Comptroller’s office.
The state levies a 6% percent tax on rooms costing $15 or more each day. Cities can levy a HOT for rooms costing $2 or more each day.
In the fiscal year 2015, the state collected around $526 million in state HOT, a steady increase over the previous decade.
HB 4158 marks a new form of investment cities can address for dark sky tourism. Dripping Springs officials said updating lighting infrastructure in downtown to protect the dark skies could be a way cities utilize the bill.
“Because the Governor did not veto or sign the bill, HB 4158 is now a law effective immediately,” said the district director for Rep. Zwiener, Holly Doyle. “This bill will help preserve the dark skies in District 45 that make the Hill Country special.”