Over in Annapolis, Maryland lawmakers are meeting in special session to debate a bunch of possible tax code changes to fill a $1.5 or $1.7 billion budget shortfall (depending on who is doing the rounding). As is often the case, Governor Martin O'Malley has decided that it's time to tax services. But since sales taxes on services generate so much opposition, O'Malley, as is also often the case, is picking on relatively lobby-lite sectors such as tanning salons, property management services and health clubs.
But even the little guys can figure out how to play the game. As the Washington Post reports, health clubs have gotten "real people" patrons to write to legislators to protest the proposed tax. It's amazing how much impact this tax just might have on people's lives.
Mike Miller, the Senate president, got a letter from a resident of Silver Spring (where I live). "I AM FAT AND TRY TO WORK OUT," my neighbor writes, but won't be able to trim down if O'Malley gets his way. "IF YOU TAX, I COULD DIE BECAUSE I WILL NOT PAY THIS TAX."
That person clearly has his or her priorities in order. (The paper doesn't say whether this person intends to petition the legislature when hit with membership cancellation fees that will be, no doubt, greater than the potential tax bill.)
But if it's easy to make fun of someone who would rather die than pay sales tax, it's harder to mock a mother of two who joined a gym after her husband was deployed to Iraq. "On a military salary, we can barely afford to add the gym to our lifestyle," she wrote to Michael Busch, the House Speaker. "It has, however, changed our lives. I now set a good healthy example for my kids. The gym has led us to better eating habits and a more active lifestyle."
Finding sympathetic victims of potential policy changes is what "outside game" lobbying is all about. In this case, it will apparently work. Miller predicts that the proposed tax won't pass.