A bill filed early this month would send a greater portion of state hotel occupancy tax money back to the counties where it was collected.

State Rep. Geanie Morrison, a Republican from Victoria, filed the bill March 2.

It calls for 2 percent of state hotel occupancy taxes from counties along the Gulf of Mexico or Corpus Christi Bay to be put aside for a coastal erosion response account managed by the Texas General Land Office.

“Our coastal counties are one of the most prominent attractions for tourists and the economic stimulus that they bring to our state,” Morrison said. “The resources necessary to sustain these natural resources should be tied to the growth in tourism in these areas.”

The hotel taxes would be collected from Cameron, Willacy, Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, Aransas, San Patricio, Calhoun, Matagorda, Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers and Jefferson counties.

Advocates of the bill say the set-aside would make up for the loss of dedicated funds for coastal erosion that in the past came from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The dedicated funding, paid for through the state’s tax on sporting goods, amounted to $22 million per biennium. Morrison’s office estimated the proposed hotel tax set aside would generate $30.4 million for coastal erosion grants.

The land office awards coastal erosion grants to help cities and counties pay for beach building projects, habitat and dune restorations, erosion studies, structure relocations and debris removal.

Coastal erosion grants can play a large role in major local projects. The land office, through the grant program, provided $2.7 million for a project to place new sand in front of the Galveston Seawall from 12th to 61st streets.

Without a dedicated fund, the land office relies on appropriations from the state’s general fund, officials said.

It also has the support of the state’s tourism lobby, which monitors spending and uses of the occupancy taxes.

“We think that the beach is the big tourism draw for these counties,” said Justin Bragiel, general counsel for the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association. “We support this legislation.”

State Rep. Wayne Faircloth said he supported Morrison’s bill.

“By securing funding for coastal management and coastal erosion in Texas, not only will we reduce the effect of coastal erosion as it continues to threaten public beaches, but it will further maintain the positive economic impact we have come to enjoy in our region as it relates to the tourism industry,” Faircloth said.

The bill is House Bill 2690. It had not been assigned to a committee and no companion bill had been filed in the Senate as of Thursday afternoon.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com. Follow him on Twitter, @johnwferguson.

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