Sales Tax Proposal Draws Fire from Tattoo Artists and Interior Designers

November 5, 2007

The Maryland tax debate dragged on this weekend, with yet another group of taxpayers voicing an opinion on Maryland’s fiscal situation. From Capital News Service:

An unlikely alliance of tattoo artists and interior designers testified Saturday against a proposal to extend the sales tax to their services, one of dozens of revenue-generating bills heard by a House committee.

The bill, co-sponsored by Delegates Justin Ross, D-Prince George’s, and Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery, would also declare body piercing, tanning salons, home-moving services, and swimming pool and hot tub cleaning as “taxable services” subject to the sales tax.

Ross said after the hearing that he chose these services because he considers them “luxury” services.

. . .

But interior designer Diane Gordy bristled at the “luxury” designation after the hearing.

In her testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, Gordy talked about a house that she fitted with an elevator, wheelchair ramp and wall-to-wall handlebars for the 12-year-old paraplegic who lived there.

Lobbyist Bruce Bereano said the state has no business collecting a tax on tattooing or piercing, which he condemned in his testimony as a “tax on culture.”

“Since time immemorial, since the time of Adam and Eve, when the serpent pierced Eve’s ear in the Garden of Eden, people have been tattooing and piercing themselves,” he said. “It’s a culture and a way of life, and it shouldn’t be taxed.”

Bereano said after his speech that he also objects to the tax because it unfairly singles out a few groups. He noted that personal trainers and a range of professional services—doctors, lawyers, dentists, psychiatrists, engineers and chemists—are not on the list.

We could argue all day about whether the services in question are luxuries, but this is beside the point. Tax bases should be as broad as possible, and sales taxes should apply equally to all goods and services, even those considered by many to be necessities. Putting legislators in the awkward position of deciding which goods and services are luxuries and which are necessities—not to mention deciding which have educational, cultural or artistic value—simply causes discord and confusion. If the sales tax applies to a wide array of goods and services, then the rate can be lower; if it unfairly targets a smaller group of products and services, then the rate will be higher.

For an analysis of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s recent tax proposal, see Tax Foundation Fiscal Fact No. 109, Governor O’Malley’s Tax Plan Puts Maryland at Risk in Regional Tax Competition. Click here for more on Maryland’s tax system.


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