No child left inside

New Mex­ico eyes tax on TVs and video games

The Covington News - - Health & Wellness - By Susan Bryan

AL­BU­QUERQUE, N.M. — Dave Gilligan re­mem­bers be­ing pushed out­side to play base­ball and other sports, but feel­ing it just wasn’t for him.

So the 24-year-old busi­ness owner is skep­ti­cal about a pro­posal to nudge kids off the couch and out the door by tax­ing tele­vi­sions and video games sold in New Mex­ico. The idea could back­fire, he says.

“If you take a kid that’s just play­ing his X-Box or what­ever and you take him out­side and you make him play base­ball, he’s go­ing to hate it,” said Gilligan, co-owner of Gamers Anony­mous, an Al­bu­querque video game store. “There’s noth­ing wrong with sit­ting at home play­ing games. Ev­ery­body’s do­ing it now.”

But a coali­tion of groups, led by the Rio Grande chap­ter of the Sierra Club, is sold on the idea that out­door ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams can in­spire chil­dren in a way that video games and television can­not.

The coali­tion wants state law­mak­ers to cre­ate a No Child Left Inside Fund with a 1 per­cent tax on TVs, video games and video game equip­ment. The fund would help pay for out­door ed­u­ca­tion through­out the state.

Sup­port­ers of the tax — which would be the first of its kind in the na­tion — say out­door pro­grams have been shown to im­prove stu­dents’ abil­i­ties in the class­room, boost their self-con­fi­dence and teach them stew­ard­ship and dis­ci­pline.

“We be­lieve that an out­door ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram in New Mex­ico could be funded through a tax on the very ac­tiv­i­ties that are di­vorc­ing kids from na­ture, pro- mot­ing more seden­tary life­styles,” said Michael Casaus, Sierra Club’s New Mex­ico youth rep­re­sen­ta­tive. “One of those cul­prits is TV and what we call screen time.”

Blogs ded­i­cated to the gam­ing world have been abuzz over the pro­posal, with crit­ics com­plain­ing that they shouldn’t have to foot the bill for par­ents who don’t know how to raise their chil­dren. Some have seized the mo­ment to talk about gam­ing’s ben­e­fits.

Gilligan, for ex­am­ple, says he learned to read at a young age thanks to video games. He also at­tributes his in­ter­est in art to gam­ing.

“I’m not a very ath­letic per­son,” he said. “I kept play­ing video games and even­tu­ally my par­ents ac­cepted that, and now it’s my ca­reer and I make good money so I’m happy.”

Sean Bersell, a spokesman for the En­ter­tain­ment Mer­chants As­so­ci­a­tion, said the video game in­dus­try has fu­eled ad­vances in com­puter tech­nol­ogy, such as faster pro­ces­sors and bet­ter graph­ics and sound.

Sup­port­ers of the tax are wrong to sug­gest that such com­plex prob­lems as low test scores and child­hood obe­sity can be solved by turn­ing off the TV, said Bersell, whose group rep­re­sents about 125 re­tail­ers in New Mex­ico.

“Tar­get­ing a small cat­e­gory of en­ter­tain­ment as some­how a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to th­ese prob­lem is just not jus­ti­fied and frankly it’s not sup­ported by a sci­en­tific con­sen­sus,” he said.

The tax would put New Mex­ico re­tail­ers at a dis­ad­van­tage as they com­pete with on­line stores and re­tail­ers that of­fer down­load­able games, Bersell warned.

Sup­port­ers ar­gue that just as health pro­grams are of­ten sup­ported by ex­cise taxes on cig­a­rettes or al­co­hol, an ex­cise tax on games and TVs would pro­vide a steady source of cash for out­door ed­u­ca­tion. Leg­isla­tive an­a­lysts have said the tax would gen­er­ate about $4 mil­lion a year.

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