Look Out Massachusetts Tech Tax, Repeal Movement Is Gaining Ground

Local technology companies are making headway in their fight against the Massachusetts tax on software services through the phone lines, in person with the governor, and through an approval by the state attorney general of a ballot initiative to repeal the tax.

A meeting, held privately in Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's office Wednesday morning, was arranged to discuss the implications of the now month-old tax on software services. The governor declined to meet with reporters waiting outside of the governor's office. Patrick, however, sent a statement about the meeting to CRN that only said the issue and alternatives were discussed and no conclusion was reached.

The meeting was attended by legislative and industry leaders. Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, attended the discussion and said that it was "constructive" but that legislators and the governor did not have any decisive changes of heart.

[Related: Grassroots Movements Growing To Fight Massachusetts Tech Tax ]

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"I thought it was a productive meeting," Widmer said, however. "I don't think they have decided. ... I think today's meeting helped focus the discussion. I think there will probably intense private discussions in the State House over the next few weeks."

Widmer said the governor maintained the same position he stated publicly last week, primarily that he was concerned about the effect on the innovation economy of the state but was hesitant to repeal the tax without an alternate source of revenue.

Rep. Ryan Fattman, who voted against the tax and is pushing for its repeal, said that the governor's "nonchalant approach" to the issue was damaging to the state economy in the wake of continued high unemployment numbers.

"When business leaders across the state come out and say very adamantly that this tax will have sweeping repercussions and damaging reputation for years to come, you should be alarmed," Fattman said, referring to Patrick's comment to reporters last week that he was "concerned but not alarmed" about the tech tax.

NEXT: On The Phones And Toward The Ballot

The meeting comes just a day after local tech businesses held an event called "Beacon Hill Blitz" in which they attempted to flood the Massachusetts legislature with calls concerned about the tax. While the event fell short of its goal with an estimated 300 calls placed out of the 400 hoped for, Brian Cardarella, partner at Boston-based DockYard and organizer of the event, said that it was a good turnout for a historically sleepy industry.

Cardarella said he hopes there will be even more calls for the second event, which he will organize if Sen. Karen Spilka's motion to repeal the tax makes it before the legislature.

"I know that for people who haven't been politically engaged in the past, it can be difficult to make those calls," Cardarella said. "We're going to have to work on that."

Rep. Fattman said that he was really excited to see the Blitz and other grassroots movements fight back against the tax.

"I would commend all those people who stepped up to the plate. It's an awesome effort," Fattman said, adding that he plans to help knocking on doors and collecting signatures for the petition to get the measure put on the 2014 ballot.

The petition, championed by Widmer and his colleagues, overcame its first hurdle Wednesday as the state attorney general approved its constitutionality and allowed it to move forward to collect signatures. The attorney general certified 28 petitions in total covering 14 topics, most not relating the tech tax.

"We're pleased that we have a green light," Widmer said. "We expected that it would be certified but were pleased that it passed this first hurdle. We're going to go full steam ahead and begin to collect signatures."

Next up for the petition is collecting the more than 68,911 registered voters' signatures to actually get the measure on the ballot. Last year, only three of the 31 petitions certified by the attorney general actually made it onto the state ballot.

Though the process wasn't near to complete, Widmer said he was hopeful for the tax's repeal.

"We've made lots of headway," he said.