Tax on veterinary services dropped from Georgia bill

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A tax on veterinary services for pets has been dropped from legislation in the Georgia General Assembly.

Hawaii, New Mexico, and South Dakota are the only three states that currently tax veterinary services.

The Georgia legislation includes several proposals for revising the state's tax code. One of those would have imposed the state's 4 percent sales tax on "veterinarian expenses for pets." Accompanying county taxes would have added another 3 percent to 4 percent.

But in late March, the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure announced the veterinary service tax provision had been removed from the bill.

It was a welcome reprieve for pet owners already struggling to afford veterinary care in a tough economy.

"We're just really worried that another 8 percent increase is going to have a lot of people have to make difficult decisions about medical care for their pets," Dr. M. Duffy Jones, a Georgia VMA board member and founder of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta, said prior to the provision being dropped from the bill.

Dr. Jones
One of the Georgia practitioners who helped successfully oppose a state tax on veterinary services was Dr. M. Duffy Jones, Georgia VMA board member and founder of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta.

Applying the state sales tax to veterinary services for pets was among the recommendations of the 2010 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians. The goals of the council included shifting state taxation from income to consumption and increasing the stability of state tax revenues, according to the council's report.

The council recommended extending the state sales tax to veterinary services for pets, pet services, vehicle maintenance, appliance service contracts, haircuts and styling, and a number of other services.

To oppose taxation of veterinary services for pets, Dr. Jones said, the GVMA started out by asking veterinarians to write to state legislators. Later the GVMA created a flier for clinics to distribute to clients, asking pet owners to write to state legislators. The GVMA also hired a lobbyist to help fight the legislation.

"We feel good that we've taken a really proactive stance and really gotten a lot of publicity about this bill and raised public awareness about it," Dr. Jones said. "We also have talked to some of the legislators privately about the small business impact."

The three states that currently tax veterinary services have done so for a long time, said Adrian Hochstadt, AVMA assistant director for state legislative and regulatory affairs. Legislators in California, Maine, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have in recent years also considered the idea.

The idea of taxing veterinary services led to a long debate in California, Hochstadt said, but the California VMA successfully organized veterinarians and the public in opposition.

"Getting the public to register their unhappiness with these taxes is a huge determining factor in whether they are stopped or not," Hochstadt said.

The AVMA posted materials from the California VMA campaign here, under the heading of "Business issues" and the subheading of "State taxes." Also available there is a chart that the AVMA has compiled of state taxes on veterinary sales and services.