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The pirate figure on the USS KIDD and the 'new bridge' on the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge are familiar sights from downtown, seen Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

There are several issues and races on the ballot throughout south Louisiana for Saturday's election, including a statewide contest to pick the next state treasurer. We urge everyone to go to the polls and vote. Concerning a proposed increase to the hotel-motel tax in much of East Baton Rouge Parish, we'd like to remind voters of our support for the measure.

The additional tax increase on hotel rooms in a proposal before most East Baton Rouge Parish voters today will not be missed by many local residents, as it is paid almost entirely by visitors. But it provides significant benefits for local tourism, and we urge voters to approve it.

It is the second chance for this tax. The tourist agency proposed it, with some alterations in the district where it is levied, last fall. It was very narrowly defeated, with boosters feeling it got lost in the mix with several other parish tax propositions, including property tax millages that would have impacted voters' pocketbooks more directly.

This time around, the 2 percent hotel room tax would include most lodgings in the parish except for those around Metropolitan Airport. Those establishments are already paying an extra tax that goes into the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District’s coffers. This year's version of the proposed hotel-motel tax wouldn't be levied in the cities of Zachary, Central and Baker, either.

Proceeds would fund enhanced tourism promotion in the city as well as upgrades to its major municipal arena, which is critical to luring more conventions and other events here. Is Baton Rouge in line with other smaller cities in its hotel taxes? Visit Baton Rouge President Paul Arrigo says it is, and that room taxes are not a large disincentive for travelers. “Baton Rouge is a very affordable destination,” he said.

Further, even softball or soccer tournaments are now seeking incentives from local tourist bureaus for the large number of motel rooms that they fill. The additional tax, if approved, would allow Baton Rouge to become more competitive in offering such incentives to get tourism business. That affects hotels and motels around the parish and not just in the downtown area, where many are located.

One penny of the new tax would fund Arrigo’s agency in its effort to bring more events to the city. Another penny would finance a bond issue, typically paid back over 30 years, to fund needed renovations and improvements in the 40-year-old Raising Cane’s River Center arena.

That update is needed to continue to host concerts and other special events enjoyed by residents and travelers alike.

Competition for tourism is intense and getting more so all the time. It's an important part of the local economy, which is why we urge voters to support the new lodging tax today.

Turnout in this election is not going to be setting any records, as low numbers of voters participated in October's primary. But the positions on the ballot are important. There is a runoff for state treasurer and a vacancy to be filled on Baton Rouge City Court.

The tourism levy is also important. That long-term commitment to tourism is good for Baton Rouge's regional economy. We urge voters to cast an informed ballot today.