In Boston radio ad, Airbnb wants to be taxed

–Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The online room rental service Airbnb is taking to the radio with a call to legislators: Tax us, please.

“Here at Airbnb, we support it,” the ad says, of a provision within an economic development bill that would tax Airbnb rentals at hotel rates. “Because if Massachusetts families pay taxes, we should too. And that’s why those of us at Airbnb paid for this message.”

The state Senate’s version of the economic development bill includes the hotel tax measure for Airbnb and similar services, and would also allow communities to add local taxes, while the House’s version does not. Supporters say the tax would help fund an expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.

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The ad comes days before the end of the two-year legislative session, with Senate and House lawmakers staring at a Sunday deadline to wrap up this year’s major initiatives, including the economic development bill.

It also comes days after Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who generally opposes new taxes, first said he supported taxing the rentals before backtracking on that position.

As CommonWealth magazine explored earlier this month, Airbnb and its competitors are very open to paying taxes, but they offer the taxation olive branch while resisting other types of lodging regulations, such as health or safety requirements. Some public officials also say they aren’t as concerned about taxes as they are the possible effect on affordable housing if Airbnb hosts buy up units to rent them off.

Airbnb’s regulatory approach is similar to that taken by other emerging tech-powered industries like daily fantasy sports and ride-hailing services: They support the notion of being regulated, which legitimizes their industry, but push for rules that they find workable or not threatening to their business models.

The 30-second spot will air until early next week, according to Airbnb spokeswoman Crystal Davis in what she called a “mid-seven figure” ad buy. She did not say which stations the ad will air on, calling it a “comprehensive buy across the market.”

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Advertising and taxes haven’t always mixed well with Airbnb. Last fall, in San Francisco, the company’s hometown, Airbnb displayed ads on bus shelters and posted billboards with messages like:

Dear Public Library System, We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later. Love, Airbnb.

The ads’ tone was widely criticized, and Airbnb eventually apologized and pulled them.

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