Md. Budget Crisis: Tattoo Artists, Home Designers Say Sales Tax Proposal is Picking on Them

By RICK DOCKSAI, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS - 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.

"Most folks would agree that those are services that are not necessities. If people choose to use them, fantastic—but it's an economic choice," he said.

Taxing those services would raise about $13 million a year for the state, according to legislative analysts, although they said the amount from tattooing and body piercing was too small to be estimated.

Ross said that at a time when Maryland is facing a budget deficit of $1.7 billion next year, luxury services are fair game for new taxes.

"We've got to find revenue wherever we can," he said.

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.

"What we do is not a luxury," she said afterward.

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.

"There is so much that is not on this list," he said.

But Chris Costello, who was outside the hearing room, said tattooing and body piercing could end up being a lucrative source of revenue.

"When I was a kid, the only people who got tattoos were circus performers and sailors who got drunk in the Philippines," said Costello, of the Public Sector Consulting Group. "It's a market now."

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