NEW FOR TUESDAY: Plan To Expand Sales Tax Worries Trade Groups

BERLIN — Proposed legislation expanding the state’s sales tax to more than two dozen new services has garnered the attention of the resort and state business community.

House Bill 1051 calls for applying the state’s sales tax to services such as tax prep, property management, vehicles, commercial cleaning, cell phones, cable television, security systems, a parking facility, barber or beauty expense, sign painting, interior decorating and extermination, among others.

The bill will have a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee today at 1 p.m.

In advance of today’s hearing, the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce sent a letter of opposition. The chamber has been encouraging others to submit their own testimony as well.

“[The bill] will expand the State Sales and Use Tax to an additional 29 services, including such business services as tax preparation, management and business consulting, public relations, photographic services, real property management, testing labs, staffing services, drafting, business brokerage service and more,” the letter read. “Extending the sales tax to professional services would hinder economic growth, cripple job creation and make Maryland less competitive.”

AAA Mid-Atlantic also chimed in with its opposition, specifically applying sales tax to auto repairs and services, driving up costs for all Maryland motorists. The organization has asked all members to contact their individual legislators as well as the bill’s sponsors, Ways and Means Committee Chair Sheila Hixson and Delegate James Gilchrist, to oppose the legislation. As of Tuesday morning, over 27,000 e-mails had been sent to Maryland legislators.

“This bill will further increase the driving costs for every Maryland car owner,” said Ragina C. Averella, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Not only is a tax on car repairs and road service regressive, it could not come at a worse time. Gas prices are now at record levels and are expected to surpass $4 per gallon in the coming weeks.”

The auto club is concerned that expanding the sales tax to auto repairs and towing services would even further strain the pockets of Maryland motorists, particularly lower income families, for whom it is already difficult to pay for vehicle maintenance and repairs. Maryland already applies a sales tax on parts for auto repair. The proposed legislation would expand the tax to include labor as well, and thus further increase the cost of vehicle repairs.

According to a AAA survey released last summer, 25 percent of motorists admit that they could not pay for a car repair of $2,000 if faced with one. In that same survey, more than 50 percent of American drivers also said they are keeping their older vehicle because they do not want the financial burden of a new one.

According to AAA, the expansion of the tax to include towing and towing services will also increase the cost of car ownership.

The sales tax on auto repairs will also drive up insurance rates for Maryland drivers. Repair services are already a significant component of the cost of auto insurance claims. Adding a tax on labor for these repairs, when collision claims run into many thousands of dollars, will add significant costs to these repairs, and ultimately be passed on to Maryland car owners in terms of higher insurance premiums, says AAA.

If the bill makes it out of committee and then is approved by the House and Senate, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.