Sunday, 19 May 2024

Animal advocates, pet owners raise concerns over proposed veterinary tax

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The cost of taking care of pets and livestock could go up if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to tax veterinary care goes through. On Tuesday, January 27, 2009, a cat rested in a cage at Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic in Lakeport. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 

 

LAKE COUNTY – Taking care of all creatures great and small could become a lot more expensive if the state Legislature approves a proposal by the governor.

 

In an effort to find additional revenue sources for California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to broaden the state's sales tax to include veterinary services.

 

The plan first arose late last year during special budget sessions, in which state legislators strongly opposed it. Now, Schwarzenegger has included it in his draft state budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

 

Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the governor, told Lake County News that Schwarzenegger released his latest budget – and the seventh proposal of the year – on New Year's Eve.

 

He said it takes a “balanced approach” of seeking new revenue by adding veterinary care to taxed services.

 

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that so far only three states – Hawaii, New Mexico and South Dakota – collect taxes on veterinary medical services, which include routine exams and vaccinations.

 

The new tax would be a nearly 10-percent additional cost to pet and animal owners, which is raising concerns for animal advocates and others fearing that the number of abandoned and neglected animals – already believed to be growing due to the economic climate – could get much worse.

 

The exact amount of sales tax added would vary from one area to the next, depending on local sales tax measures. In the unincorporated areas of the county, sales tax currently is 7.25 percent, while in Clearlake and Lakeport – where voter-approved sales tax measures support police and road projects, respectively – sales tax currently is 7.75 percent, according to city and county officials.

 

"It's obvious that 10 percent onto fees for people that are lower income is going to be devastating for them," said Dr. Debra Sally of Clearlake Veterinary Clinic.

 

"There's a potential that a lot more animals are going to go without care," Sally added, suggesting many more animals could end up in the pound, which itself is an expense for government.

 

Jennifer Fearing, chief economist for the Humane Society of the United States, said the organization is referring to the tax proposal as the "Fido fine," although it also will affect large animal and livestock care as well.

 

“We are absolutely opposed,” she said.

 

Fearing said animal shelters already are grappling with higher costs and more animals, and making it more expensive to care for animals may just mean more animals in the pound. “This is really just adding insult to injury,” said Fearing, who called the proposal “reckless on the governor's part.”

 

Because it also will impact livestock, said said it will raise the cost of doing business for farmers and ranchers.

 

Then there are impacts on government, said Fearing. Because local government agencies aren't immune from paying sales tax, animal shelters that contract for vet services would have to pay the tax along with everyone else.

 

An example, Fearing said Los Angeles County, which spends $2.5 million a year on contracted services, would have to pay $250,000 in taxes, funds which otherwise would go to animal care.

 

Fearing said the most absurd and strange aspect of the proposed tax is how it's lumped in with several completely unrelated services.

 

The budget proposal suggests that, beginning March 1, the sales tax would be extended to appliance and furniture repair, vehicle repair and veterinarian services. Then, on April 1, the sales and use tax rate

would be applied to amusement parks, sporting events and golf.

 

“Selection of these services was based on ease of implementation as these services are generally provided by entities that already have a relationship with the Board of Equalization,” the budget states.

 

The new taxes are estimated to generate $272 million in state general fund in 2008-09 and $1.154 billion in 2009-10.

 

"Ethically I don't see how you can put animals lives in the same category as car repair," Sally said.

 

 

 

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Callie Dailey of Boonville comforts her dog, Beau Duke, on Tuesday, January 27, 2009, after he underwent surgery for a shattered leg due to being hit by a car. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

 

 

Pet owners could see big rises in costs

 

Dr. Susan Cannon of Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic in Lakeport said the big issue is the prospect of greater expenses for clinics and their patients.

 

"Obviously, most clinics are not going to afford to be able to absorb those costs," she said.

 

Cannon said pet owners can expect an increase in fees to compensate for the tax. "A lot of people are having a hard enough time as it is affording vet care," she said, adding that the proposal is "all very vague."

 

The tax seems very large, said Cannon, and most pet owners don't have insurance or other assistance in paying for care.

 

"Obviously the state's in trouble and they're trying to come up with as many ways as they can to make money," Cannon said.

 

On Tuesday, Callie Dailey of Boonville was at Wasson Memorial with her 1-year-old black lab mix, Beau Duke, who she adopted from a Lake County rescue group.

 

Beau had been hit by a car, and suffered a shattered left hind leg and a hip out of socket, said Dailey.

 

After being told by other vets that they could only amputate Beau's leg, Dailey connected with Dr. Chris Holmes of Wasson. On Tuesday Holmes operated on Beau in an effort to save his leg.

 

Dailey said the surgery is expensive enough without having to pay hundreds of dollars more in tax.

 

She said cost could force heartbreaking choices.

 

“I'm sure for some people it would mean the difference between saving their dog and having to put it to sleep,” said Dailey.

 

Vets group speaks out against tax

 

The California Veterinary Medical Association, which represents 6,000 veterinarians statewide, has come out against the proposal.

 

The association's president, Dr. William Grant II, told Lake County News that it's hard to say if the tax will become a law.

 

The association has good support from both Democrats and Republicans who agree it isn't a good tax, Grant said.

 

Grant said it's not fair to segregate one fraction of the health care profession and target it with this level of taxation. He had no idea why veterinarians were singled out.

 

"It's already difficult in today's economy for a lot of people to take care of their pets," he said.

 

Grant said the tax will get passed on from vets to pet owners, and essentially will result in penalizing people for doing the right thing by taking care of their pets.

 

He also noted that pet owners can be prosecuted for failing to provide veterinarian care. "We just think it's ridiculous."

 

Grant, who is a small animal vet in Southern California, has told many of his clients about the proposal, and they've responded by calling legislators.

 

The Humane Society also sent out an e-mail alert to 120,000 California members about a week and a half ago, Fearing said.

 

Schwarzenegger's office has a constituent affairs line where people can call in to register their opinions about various issues, said McLear.

 

To call in, dial 916-445-2841; press 5 to leave an opinion – hit 1 to show support for the sales tax and 2 if you oppose it.

 

As to response on the tax, McLear said "It's higher than most issues right now."

 

He added, "That changes daily, depending on what the hot issues of the day are."

 

Schwarzenegger receives a weekly report on constituent feedback on issues, McLear said.

 

"Obviously we are being heard," Grant said.

 

 

 

The 2009 California Humane Lobby Day, which will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, February 12, at the California State Capitol, also will offer animal advocates a chance to speak to elected officials and their staff about important legislation. To RSVP to take part in the event, visit https://community.hsus.org/humane/events/lobbyday_SacramentoCA_Feb12/details.tcl?member_key=ine3wie2z7men7k6&.

 

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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