In case you have not been following the latest news in the video game industry, you may not be aware that a proposal cooked up right here in New Mexico has made news in gaming circles nationwide.
The proposal, which was developed by the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club and is being lobbied for by a coalition called “Leave No Child Inside,” is to levy a new 1 percent tax on TVs, video games and game equipment sold in the state.
Money from the tax an expected $4 million annually, according to proponents will go into a fund administered by the Public Education Department and will be used (unless a future legislature diverts it) to fund outdoor programs and other programs in an effort to fight obesity and poor school performance which may result from “excessive” TV, movie and video game exposure.
The legislation has been introduced in the current 30-day session by Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo. Needless to say, because it essentially levies a “sin tax” on gamers and TV watchers, it has drawn the attention of many of the millions of Americans who enjoy these activities.
Unfortunately, with Gov. Bill Richardson’s massive health care proposal taking top priority and sucking up most of the media attention, the average New Mexican remains blissfully ignorant of this latest taxing effort in Santa Fe.
Of course, taxing video games to fund outdoor education sounds great to the average do-gooder. Video games and television are politically correct and they supposedly make us fat. Who could be against taxing such harmful products?
The bigger question is, “Why is the government trying to stop us from watching TV or playing video games?” Isn’t it an individual’s responsibility to exercise? Certainly, governments have increasingly involved themselves in every facet of our lives, from what we eat to whether we smoke, not to mention where we live (remember, suburbs are bad) and what we drive (or if we should take transit instead). But shouldn’t we draw the line somewhere?
Besides, as if in direct response to those who would tax TV and video games “for our own good,” senior citizens around the country are now using video games to stay physically fit. As reported recently in USA Today, Flora Dierbach, 72, who chairs the entertainment committee at a retirement home in Chicago, helped arrange a bowling tournament using the Nintendo Wii.
Said Dierbach, “It’s a very social thing and its good exercise É and you don’t have to throw a 16-pound bowling ball to get results.” She added, “The competition had people who hardly knew each other cheering and hugging in the span of a few hours.” That doesn’t sound like the zoned-out teenage slacker/video game addict to you, does it?
The fact is that no matter who is playing video games and watching TV, the state of New Mexico should not be in the business of using tax policies to mold us into better people. Government should serve us as citizens, not the other way around.
And, while a 1 percent tax, to be levied on top of the already onerous gross receipts tax which is levied at rates approaching 8 percent in some parts of the state, may not make or break anyone’s decision as to whether or not to buy the latest flat screen TV or game system, don’t expect the tax rate to stay at 1 percent for long if this misguided tax is adopted. After all, whether it is outdoor activity or incredibly expensive commuter trains, governments never run out of ways to spend money.
During the current, short, 30-day session, even a group with the sympathetic-sounding name “Leave No Child Inside” will have difficulties getting their new tax enacted into law. But if New Mexicans don’t speak out now, similar proposals will undoubtedly rear their ugly heads in the future.
Gessing is the president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, an independent, tax-exempt research and educational organization.