The people who ski and golf can afford a sales tax on amusements

I was reading an interesting article by Albert A. DiMillo, Jr. comparing the Democratic tax proposal and the one proposed by Governor LePage. Mr. DiMillo, an experienced accountant, proposes that the Democrats put forth the better plan, but it could use a little tweaking. His thorough analysis supports increasing the lodging tax and expanding the sales tax to amusements.

His analysis predates the GOP introducing a plan, but as the score card now stands, the Democrats and Governor LePage are for expanding the sales tax while Republicans are not. I am not sure about a sweeping sales tax expansion, but I think Mr. DiMillo is on to something with picking and choosing what services might warrant taxation. Personally, I’d start with taxing ski passes and golf greens fees.

Various administrations and legislative compositions have been kicking the idea of taxing these services around for years— at least since my first skiing experience in the late 1980’s. I didn’t move to Maine until I was five and shortly after they put a basketball in my hands, which, back in the day, meant no skiing. I was a few years out of high school before anyone could convince me it was a good idea to lock my long legs onto two pieces of wood and propel myself down a slope.

A bunny slope to be precise. My friend was an accomplished skier and was quite sure that an athlete like myself could master skiing, no problem. Trying to bolster my confidence, we began at the top of the bunny slope with a lesson on how to stop. My friend continued to coach me while we proceeded down the hill at what could be described as either breakneck or comically slow speed, depending on who’s telling the story.

I panicked and tried my stopping technique. It went very wrong, and as it went wrong, I tried to fall like an athlete— going into a tuck and roll and ready to bounce back up— but there’s no bouncing back up with elongated pieces of wood on your feet. I came to a stop upside down, butt in the air, skis and feet over my head, crossed and buried in the snow. When I re-oriented, I saw a group of four and five year olds passing over me on the lift, pointing and laughing, and making hilarious comments about the klutz down there.

As quickly as the position allowed, I unlocked those darn torture devices, walked down the hill, and became an aficionado of the “Apres Ski.” I learned that, if you spread the “Apres Ski” evenly throughout the day and evening while your friends hit the slopes, ski weekends could be quite pleasurable.

I don’t have any self-deprecating stories involving golf.  I’ve never hit a ball except the colored ones used in mini-golf. Actually I do have a self-deprecating story involving a high school friend and hijacking his family’s golf cart; they lived on the edge of a course. And I have a story that involves the same golf course, a different friend who is a golfer, but still no golf. Neither story belongs in a political or social commentary blog– though maybe a tell-all memoir.

My point is, all these stories come from somewhat financially secure times in my life. None of my friends in the stories were exactly financially compromised, nor did the “Apres Ski” crowd appear to be a destitute bunch.

Past Trish had money for things like ski weekends and lift passes that I had no intention of using, and I would have been happy to pay taxes— on the passes and an increase in the lodging tax. I wouldn’t have cared; such things are luxuries and should be taxed accordingly.

And if future Trish is ever able to afford playing real golf, I would be more than happy to pay taxes on greens fees— again, a luxury. Just like future Trish will be more than happy to pay all the taxes and fees associated with a snowmobile when I can afford one. Put an engine and a track on a pair of skis, and now you’re talking my kind of fun.

Further, as DiMillo and so many others have observed, a significant portion of these expanded and increased taxes will be payed by tourists who should make a contribution to maintaining our beautiful state they so enjoy. I’m the first to complain about poor stewardship of taxpayer dollars, but not about the obligation to pay taxes, especially on luxury purchases.

I’d like to think that the mark of a civilized society is how well it maintains itself and cares for its citizens who are unable to care for themselves. It’s just that we’re still working out how best to hit that mark.

I hope the legislature takes Mr. DiMillo’s advice and expands the sales tax to amusements and increases the lodging tax. I wonder how much revenue our state has lost during the many years the subject has been debated. I wonder how many of those kids on the lift laughing at me all those years ago have continued to ski and enjoy other amusements in Maine– and how much they and people like them could have contributed to the economic health of our state.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.