Airbnb wants to be taxed. Really

It’s almost Alice through the Looking Glass. An emerging industry leader that legally operates tax-free is asking – no, imploring – lawmakers to slap a levy on its business. That’s exactly what Airbnb, the web-based app that pairs up travelers with people looking to cash in on a spare room or three in their private homes, is asking the Massachusetts Legislature to do.

Will Burns, the director of policy for Airbnb, says it’s a matter of fundamental fairness, but taking off his corporate hat, he admits the effort is to legitimize the technology as an accepted commercial entity.
“Part of what the goal of the company is, is to become legitimate and one of the ways you do that is being a good corporate citizen,” Burns says on this week’s Codcast. “It takes away a critical argument that our competitors have made that we don’t play by the rules, we don’t pay taxes, we’re sort of pirates.”

Burns says getting a tax through the Legislature and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker is not as simple as it sounds, even when those most affected by the levy want to pay it. “It’s still a vote for a tax,” he said.

Burns, a Cleveland native who moved to Chicago and was enmeshed in that city’s politics for years, addressed a variety of issues surrounding the home-sharing industry, and specifically, Airbnb. For Burns, there’s a personal stake: His mom is an Airbnb “superhost” who rents out his boyhood room in Cleveland when he’s not visiting. He said her involvement is one of the things that drives his policy view for the company, such as how much to regulate a short-term rental business without treating it like a hotel.

“We shouldn’t have to make my mom go down to city hall and fill out some paperwork,” he said. “For a person doing it in their home, there should be a lighter touch and there should be a lighter touch because they’re not operating a hotel.”

Pushing through the tax and overseeing other measures being offered to regulate the home-sharing apps has helped familiarize Burns with Boston, a key part of the Airbnb portfolio. Burns said Massachusetts is Airbnb’s fourth-largest market.

He also was forthright in addressing criticism that some minorities have been discriminated against by hosts because of their race and refused bookings. He cited a recent study by Harvard that showed people with African-American sounding names had a greater likelihood of being denied a rental than someone with a European name.

Burns also noted an old friend and mentor from Chicago will soon be leaving his current job, joking that his old buddy could be a popular Airbnb host. When Burns first graduated from college at 21, he hooked up with then-state senate candidate Barack Obama and worked in his district office for several years before forging his own political path. Would soon-to-be-former President Obama open his home to travelers?

“That would be a great listing,” he said.



Gov. Charlie Baker says he will veto any broad-based taxes, but might go along with closing loopholes. (MassLive)

A lawsuit filed by five mothers is charging the Baker administration with illegally denying shelter to families because of its policy of ending the use motels to house the homeless. (Boston Globe)

A Globe editorial decries cuts Baker is making to drug treatment services amidst the state’s deadly opioid epidemic.

The state’s four Catholic bishops join the call for sweeping criminal justice reform, urging Beacon Hill leaders to include repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders in legislation. (CommonWealth)

Marijuana enthusiasts traded buds on the steps of the State House to celebrate the first day of legal weed in Massachusetts (Boston Herald). Meanwhile, a young reporter who is green to the ways of the green stuff engages in an odd odyssey to try to procure a sample. (Boston Globe)


One worker was killed and another injured when they were trapped inside a municipal water tank in Braintree. Officials had to drain more than 1 million gallons of water to be able to retrieve the victim’s body. (Patriot Ledger)


President-elect Donald Trump has chosen a bankruptcy lawyer, who supports Jewish settlements in the West Bank and has questioned the push for a two-state solution, as ambassador to Israel. (New York Times)

John Podesta, who ran Hillary Clinton’s campaign, says something is deeply wrong at the FBI. (Washington Post)

President Obama promises some sort of action against Russia for interfering in the US election. (Time)

US Rep. James McGovern and Sen. Elizabeth Warren vow to fight any Republican efforts to cut food stamps funding. (Boston Herald)

A Herald editorial says the Obama administration’s “lead from behind” approach is partly to blame for the unfolding catastrophe in Aleppo.


With more attention than at any time in recent memory on the normally pro forma voting of the Electoral College set for Monday, at least 56 electors have asked for a security briefing about Russian hacking and an attorney from Mintz Levin has consulted with several Republican electors about their constitutional rights. (Greater Boston)

State regulators ruled that a publicly funded state charter school association violated state law when it gave $100,000 to the ballot campaign pushing to raise the charter school cap. The donation was returned the day before the November 8 election. (Boston Herald)


The stock market has soared since the November election, causing some discomfort among those aghast at Donald Trump’s election. (Boston Globe)

A proposed 51-story tower atop South Station got approval from Boston officials, but still needs to be cleared by state officials, who control the property. (Boston Globe)

Cuisinart, a staple in American kitchens, has recalled eight million food processors because of blades breaking and causing injury, sending cooks and bakers into a lather over what to do for their holiday cooking. (New York Times)

The website, where anyone can set up a fundraising appeal for virtually any reason for a 5 percent fee plus a 2.9 percent processing charge, has helped raise more than $3 billion since its launch in 2010. But critics worry that the site is peeling away donors from traditional charities. (New York Times)

The owners of Nick’s Famous Roast Beef in Beverly appear ready to plead guilty to tax evasion. (Gloucester Times)


Public schools in Worcester are closed today because of the cold. (Telegram & Gazette)

Framingham school superintendent Stacy Scott, who had been on leave for the past several months and had been applying for other jobs, resigned just two weeks after the School Committee posted a national job ad seeking his replacement. (MetroWest Daily News)

The Bristol Community College Board of Trustees unanimously selected Laura Douglas, the provost of a community college in Des Moines, Iowa, to be the next president of the Fall River school. (Herald News)

Boston school officials slow down a proposal to change the grade configuration of the system’s schools to K-6 and 7-12 grade buildings. (Boston Globe)


The union representing members of the Southcoast Visiting Nurses Association says the group’s parent organization has cut professional development funds, leaving employees who handle home and hospice care without critical skills development. (Standard-Times)


The Pioneer Institute proposes revamping retirement benefits for MBTA employees, including bringing its workers into the state retirement system. (Boston Globe)


Cynthia Arcate of PowerOptions makes a strong case that Eversource’s joint offshore wind venture with DONG Energy is a “clear conflict” with existing law. (CommonWealth)

The Haverhill School Committee shoots down a project that would have installed solar panels on the roof of an elementary school and saved the district money. It was the second time a school solar project had been rejected by the committee. (Eagle-Tribune)

The NRC has refused a demand from Plymouth officials to meet with them to discuss the contents of a leaked email that characterizes the staff at Pilgrim nuclear power plant as being “overwhelmed” and lacking in knowledge about running the facility. (Cape Cod Times)


Mark Harrington, a former Teamsters official convicted of trying to extort union jobs for the filming of the television show Top Chef, was sentenced to two years probation, including six months of home confinement. (Boston Globe)

Dylann Roof was convicted of killing nine parishioners during a race-triggered shooting spree at a historic black church in South Carolina and the 22-year-old now moves to the death penalty phase of his trial. (U.S. News & World Report)


Following a special screening last night, law enforcement officials gave high marks to Patriots Day for the movie’s accuracy in portraying events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. (Boston Herald)