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Cities seeking to retain sports teams, or to lure new ones, have apparently fastened on car-rental taxes or surcharges as a way to raise money for the cause.

Atlanta's mayor and its Convention and Visitors Bureau want a 3 percent tax on car rentals anywhere in Georgia to help finance a new basketball arena for the Atlanta Hawks, which are threatening to move out of town. The city council and the legislature must approve this step; a bill was introduced in the Legislature Jan. 12.Tampa is proposing a 5 percent charge on car rentals to help build a football stadium for the Buccaneers; this must also be approved by the state as well as the city.

Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts announced on Jan. 22 that he still wanted to build a convention center and stadium and that he would increase taxes on tourism - including car rentals - to achieve his goal.

Some places are already collecting to underwrite sports. John Lee of Budget Rent a Car, who is legislative monitor for the American Car Rental Association, said the association particularly objected to recent actions by the state of Washington.

After a state referendum rejected a 1 percent sales tax to build a new home for the Mariners baseball team, the legislature enacted a package of taxes and fees in October to do the job. This included a rise of 2 percentage points in the 15.1 percent tax on car rentals in Seattle, which went into effect Jan. 1. At the end of January, group of citizens filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the legislation that mandated the taxes.

Lee's group, on the other hand, looks with favor on Wisconsin's new sales tax of 0.1 percent in five counties - Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington - for a new stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. The tax, which does not target just car rentals but is a general sales tax, went into effect Jan. 1.