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The Terminator is apparently out to terminate our pets, or at least their visits to veterinarians. At a time when pet owners – like most everyone in America – are struggling to come up with money, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed the idea of assessing a sales tax of around 10 percent on vet visits to help make up for the state’s reported $11.2 billion deficit.
Some pet owners are beginning to wonder if their ‘Governator’ has something against furry members of the family. Schwarzenegger, who staunchly continues to support a ban on pet ferrets (aside from Hawaii, California is the only state with such a ban) said in a public statement, the issue is solely a matter of economics.
That doesn’t make Ron DeHaven, CEO of the Schaumburg, IL-based American Veterinary Medical Association feel any better since most states now have enormous budget shortfalls and are desperately seeking revenue. “We’re working very closely with the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) to oppose this legislation,” he says. “We know that even proposed legislation from such a large and high profile state may make its way across the country.”
While there is no organized consumer protest against the proposed tax, pet owners are not happy. In fact, it’s difficult – if not impossible to find a pet owner who likes the idea. But then, how often do citizens welcome new taxes?
Kim Thornton of Lake Forest, CA has three dogs, and as it happens she writes about pets for a living, as a pet book author and columnist for MSNBC.com. She says, “I feel targeted. Why not a sales tax across the board which affects everyone instead of only going after pet owners? Maybe the Governor assumes pet care is discretionary spending.”
Dr. Diane McClure, a veterinarian in Goleta, CA adds, “This is really a healthcare issue. Veterinarians are medical professionals who shouldn’t be lumped in with discretionary spending like golf and wine,” she says. “This would also open the door for government to tax your dentist visit, or the physical therapist or any medical procedure.”
Some do suggest the Guv really wants to open that door so ultimately there may be a tax on other medical costs, ultimately even hospital stays. However, the problem with that idea is contending with third parties who pay those hospital bills, from the insurance companies to government. One former state government employee, who is in Sacramento, says, “It’s not only the ethical issue of taxing hospital visits, it’s the practical issues of how the state would collect the tax revenue. Veterinary visits would be a piece of cake.’
Dr. Bill Grant II, president of the CVMA, says that he’s not had direct conversations with the Governor, but he was told that the rationale for applying the sales tax is that it will be easy to implement. That’s because in California (like many other states), some products purchased at veterinary clinics are currently subject to sales taxes, such as pet foods and flea products. Adding an across the board tax shouldn’t be complicated.
In fact, the idea of taxation on veterinary visits isn’t a novel one. Hawaii, New Mexico and South Dakota have all taxed some veterinary services for many years. Michigan floated a similar proposal last year, but it was defeated.
The bottom line is that taxing vet visits won’t change the bottom line. “Certainly, taxing veterinary visits won’t really make up a budget shortfall,” Grant says.
Apparently understanding the sensitivity of this issue, a special phone line has been set up to hear from pet owners (916-445-2841, dial 5 to leave an opinion on a current issue, and then dial 21 to select the proposed tax on veterinary services). However, getting through on that line is problematic, whether it’s because the line is overloaded with irate pet owners or that the line is not working properly is unclear. Schwarzenegger’s press office declined comment and refused to return calls.
According to a recent national consumer spending survey by Trone, a marketing and communications firm in Greensboro, NC, 75 percent of pet owners indicate that due to the economy, they’ll likely visit the veterinarian less often. “There clearly is a struggle out there for many to get their pets the proper care, so this proposed taxation couldn’t come at a worse time,” says Dr. Karen Felsted, Chief Executive Officer - National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, based in Schaumburg, IL.
Grant agrees, “Creating an additional hardship for pet owners is unfair, not only to the pet owners but also to the pets.”
And pet owners certainly seem to agree, Misty Waters is an aspiring actress in Los Angeles, who’s working as a waitress when she can’t find acting gigs – which is most of the time. “I’m cutting back on the kind of cat food I buy for my two guys,” she says. “I really can’t afford to pay a penny more.”
Thornton agrees, “The veterinary costs in California, are already high. If costs go up even just a little bit, it has to have a negative impact on care pets will receive.”
That former government employee in Sacramento adds, “Listen, Government gets us into these messes – then they look to the public to help them to get out. Now, they’re looking for a bail out from the pets. It’s just crazy.”
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to email@example.com. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com. Steve hosts the national radio shows, “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute with Steve Dale.” He can also be heard on WGN Radio in Chicago and is a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
© 2009 STEVE DALE, TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.