Last June, the Columbus City Council voted to approve a $4-per-day car rental tax. The tax, pushed by Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s administration, was expected to produce an additional $6 million to $10 million annually for the city’s general fund.
Before the vote, council members opted to include a sunset clause and annual review for the tax to appease car rental operators and diffuse opposition.
Or so they assumed.
At the time, no one on the city council could have anticipated that less than five months later, that same rental tax would go down to defeat as a public referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot. But that’s what happened, even though the pro-tax campaign outspent the anti-tax campaign $312,000 to $99,000. And even though the tax measure drew endorsements from a number of notable community organizations, including the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, which receives the majority of its funding from the city.
In a column published in The Columbus Dispatch newspaper just two days before the election, writer Barbara Carmen observed this about the car rental tax measure: “Mayor Michael B. Coleman and the city council badly underestimated its opposition from local rental companies.”
That’s for sure.
“I think the car rental industry needs to learn from this campaign and use this as a model for fighting taxes in other cities,” says Kevin Miles, vice president and general manager of the Budget Rent a Car franchise in Columbus. “Seven different rental companies — licensees and corporate stores — all came together to defeat this tax. We all worked together to make this happen.”
Miles was largely responsible for bringing the coalition of rental car companies together. The battle against the tax actually began more than a year before the Nov. 5 election, when Mayor Coleman’s Economic Advisory Committee first recommended the tax.
After their successful petition drive to bring the tax to a public vote, local car rental operators relied heavily on grassroots campaigning to sway public sentiment against the tax.