In Vegas, tourist taxes help pay for cops — Orlando should follow suit

Like Orlando, Las Vegas lives on tourism.

Unlike Orlando, Las Vegas uses tourist taxes to help pay for schools, cops, roads and more.

There's a simple reason for the Las Vegas logic: Locals know that, although tourists bring money to town, they also place demands on services.

So instead of doing what Orlando does — pouring all hotel taxes back into attracting more tourists — Vegas spends some of it on behalf of the people who live there year-round.

We're talking nearly $200 million on schools last year alone.

An additional $116 million for cops, roads and parks.

Here in Orlando, not one penny of the $175 million collected last year from hotel taxes went to pay for cops that patrol the tourism corridor.

It is time for that to change.

Ten years ago, it looked like it might. Orange County had just dumped an additional $750 million into its convention center. Magic owner Rich DeVos was demanding hundreds of millions more for a new arena. And the convention and visitors bureau wanted more for marketing.

Citizens called for a timeout.

In poll after poll, they asked legislators to change the state law, saying that restricting hotel-tax spending primarily to marketing, sports arenas and convention centers didn't make sense.

One Sentinel poll found 70 percent of residents wanted to amend state laws. One conducted by then-Mayor Glenda Hood put the number at 86 percent. Even the town's business elite wanted to change, as evidenced by an 80 percent vote at a Chamber of Commerce hobnob.

But tourism leaders wouldn't have it.

They instructed the politicians to ignore the people. And the politicians dutifully followed orders.

I've never seen a political issue that had such widespread support among the populace — yet had so little chance of passing, simply because the big money was on the other side.

Las Vegas used to be the same way.

For years, the city of bright lights and broken dreams poured tourism taxes back into the tourism economy. The city conjured up brilliant marketing slogans — like "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" — that helped the city thrive.

But along the way, Las Vegas noticed that it was neglecting its locals. Like Orlando, Vegas bore the battle scars of rapid growth: congested roads, crowded schools and strained resources.

So Vegas leaders started thinking bigger. At first the tourism industry resisted. But ultimately it embraced diversification.

The Vegas visitors bureau still gets plenty of annual cash — $159 million last year alone. But now there's plenty more to pay for other needs as well.