In Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania, associations are at the forefront challenging new taxes and fees, and in Pennsylvania’s case, winning.
On Nov. 20, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld a lower court ruling in favor of the Philadelphia Regional Limousine Association (PRLA) that cited unconstitutional the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s (PPA) proposed fee schedule on limousine operators. Fighting back against a new 25 cent per-person limousine tax in Baltimore, the Maryland Limousine Association (MLA) is vocal and unified in repealing the tax. And in New York, the Limousine Bus Taxi Operators of Upstate New York (LBTOUNY) is leading a united front with associations from across the state to repeal a 2009 sales tax imposed on transportation services.
Clearly, the luxury transportation industry is a target for cash-strapped states and municipalities looking for additional revenue. “Unfortunately, it is very much a real trend,” says Philip Jagiela, executive director of the National Limousine Association. He cited North Carolina and Virginia as recent examples where the NLA helped local associations overturn industry sales taxes.
In New York, the LBTOUNY in cooperation with the Black Car Assistance Corp., with added support from the National Federation of Independent Business Association and numerous other pro-business organizations, has helped introduce bills in the state Senate and Assembly to repeal the tax. In addition, a petition calling to end the tax is being circulated to operators and supporters statewide to be delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking that he strike down the law.
“Every association in New York is working with us,” said David Bastian, sales manager of Towne Livery in Orchard Park, N.Y., and a member of the LBTOUNY legislative committee. “We have a unified front now, which we didn’t have in 2009 when the tax was enacted and we couldn’t react. Now, we communicate with other New York associations and have the support of the NFIB, the Business Council of New York, Unshackle Upstate (New York), and Buffalo Niagara Partnership and other pro-business organizations to repeal the law.”
The overriding lesson learned in fighting the tax is that working hand-in-hand with other small-business associations helps spur change, Bastian said. “The bottom line is now our industry has a voice where we didn’t before because we have support from other business organizations, and that sends a message to lawmakers.”
In Maryland, limousine operators are ruffled about — and refusing to pay — a new Baltimore city tax targeting taxis and limousines. The MLA joined forces with other taxi and transportation organizations to form the Baltimore Transportation Tax Coalition (BTTC) to fight the new law that went into effect in October.
“We can’t repeal this law, but we are trying to amend it,” said Mark Thistle, MLA member and president of Freedom Car. “It’s not just the tax, but an accounting nightmare to track passengers — and nobody wants the city to be looking into our business each month to see if we are tracking passengers.”
MLA President Joanna Fridinger, also president of The Limo Lady, is helping lead the charge to fight the tax by alerting the media of the tax’s dire effects on operators. Quoted in the Baltimore Sun, Fridinger said, “Trying to collect these funds is like trying to pick every single pea out of a bowl of pea soup. To have a tax that’s a per-person, per-trip fee? Trying to figure that out, for a lot of companies it is going to be crazy.”
Although pleased with the recent state Supreme Court ruling in favor of the PRLA, association President Jim Salinger said he knows the fight is not over. “I hope it goes away because the PPA fee schedule has been deemed unconstitutional and would be a serious burden on operators. . . We’ll have to see what happens when the dust settles. I don’t think the PPA will give up, but I am thankful the court realized how the fees would impact a small business.”
Tom Halligan is LCT East Coast editor, based in Marlton, N.J. He travels regularly to industry association meetings in the eastern U.S. Tom can be reached at [email protected]