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Towne Livery’s David Bastian, a member of the Limousine Bus Taxi Operators of Upstate New York, was instrumental in getting a proposed repeal of the state sales tax on limousine service well into the state legislative process.
If you’ve tuned in to LCT E-News in the last few months, you probably noticed recurring coverage of a push by operators in New York to repeal the state sales tax on limousine service. This issue is newsworthy for several reasons: Sales taxes affect the bottom lines of every operator in New York; operators in other states also contend with sales taxes; and the battle offers some lessons in successful lobbying.
The tax became law in 2009 when it was included in that year’s state budget. The criticism is that the “hidden” tax was unfairly imposed on the limousine and black car services, while exempting other vehicles, such taxis and buses. The tax varies by county; in New York City, for example, the tax is 8.85%.
David Bastian, general sales manager of Towne Livery in Orchard Park, N.Y., and a member of the Limousine Bus Taxi Operators of Upstate New York (LBTOUNY) legislative committee, has been leading the charge for his association. New to the lobbying game, Bastian says he’s learned a lot.
The first lesson is that you’ll never know until you ask. Trying to get the sales tax repealed has been discussed in several meetings but the association wasn’t sure whether they’d get any traction on the effort, Bastian says. He called up Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-60th District, and asked his office to consider the repeal.
“After they looked into it, they basically grabbed the ball and ran with it,” Bastian says. “I didn’t realize they would jump on it so fast. They really weren’t aware of this issue and how it affected the industry. When we told them about it, they felt it wasn’t right and they responded.”
Grisanti sponsored Bill S.4920 on May 1, and a similar bill was introduced into the State Assembly by Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-143rd District. With the legislative session ending June 21, things moved quickly from there. “I didn’t have much time to prepare. It was basically learning how to lobby on the fly. It was like a whirlwind for a month.”
A second lesson is that legislative staffs are important players, so don’t write them off. When Bastian contacted various legislators, he admits he viewed staff as an obstacle to getting to actual lawmakers and was concerned the word was not making it up the chain of command. He soon learned otherwise. “When you make a call to a legislator’s office, the staff you talk to are the ones [who] do the homework and play an important role in getting information to the Assemblyman or Senator to understand the situation so they can make an informed decision.”