That pesky Section 48

City Councillor At-Large Sam Yoon has often complained that the City Council is powerless under the “strong mayor” system, to the chagrin of some colleagues on the 13-member council.

But last week’s debate over the increasing the city’s meals and hotel taxes appeared to prove Yoon, a candidate for mayor, right in at least one instance.

The hike, which Menino aides have long pushed for and say will help diversify the city’s revenue stream, is expected to bring in $18 million in fiscal 2010. (“This is a vote that is really about the future of the city,” District 3 Councillor Maureen Feeney said, because the city is currently dependent on the property tax and an uneven stream of state aid.)

District 6 Councillor John Tobin attempted to add an amendment to the hike, calling for $176,000 of that money to be earmarked for an arts program that allows for matching grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. “It’s a statement that we’re making,” Tobin said. “That arts and culture matter.”

Feeney said apportionment wasn’t a good idea. “Each of us can identify an area which could use these additional dollars,” she said.

Yoon said the council should approve Tobin’s amendment in order to make a statement about the council’s power. “This is about the City Council demonstrating some independence,” he said. “It’s a power of this body that we have never fully exercised.”

It’s a power never exercised because apparently the council doesn’t have it, according to council’s clerks: Section 48 in the city’s charter mandates that “all appropriations,” with the exception of those dealing with schools, originate from the mayor’s office. As a result, City Council President Michael Ross ruled the amendment out of order.

Amendments adding sunset provisions and using the new revenue to offset property taxes – proposed by Tobin and City Councillor At-Large Michael Flaherty, respectively – were rejected by the council.

The final votes on the meals and lodging taxes: 10 to 3 on the meals tax; 11 to 2 on the hotel taxes. District 9 Councillor Mark Ciommo voted against the meals tax increase, but for the hotel tax. Tobin and Flaherty, who has ripped the increases as damaging towards small businesses and their employees, voted against the hikes.

The increases kick in on Oct. 1. The meals tax will rise to 7 percent from 6.25 percent, while the hotel tax will rise to 14.45 percent from 12.45 percent.