gavel_and_judge.jpgTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A three-judge panel is hearing an appeal by 17 Florida counties of a lower court's tax ruling in favor of online travel companies.

Lawyers were presenting oral argument Tuesday to the 1st District Court of Appeal panel in Tallahassee.

The counties are appealing a decision last year by Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge James Shelfer. He said the online companies should be taxed only on what they pay for hotel rooms rather than the higher price they charge customers.

Millions in tourist development tax dollars are at stake. The case, though, may be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court regardless of how the appellate court rules.

Shelfer said Florida's tax law is too vague to support the counties' argument that payment should be based on the marked-up price charged to consumers.