Members of the Massachusetts technology sector are planning a protest Tuesday in which they hope to flood legislative offices with hundreds of phone calls against the recently passed software services tax.
The so-called Beacon Hill Blitz is the latest effort by the business community to pressure lawmakers to undo the 6.25 percent sales tax on such common computing services as modifying software, updating business programs, and doing technology consulting.
Governor Deval Patrick plans to meet this week with legislative leaders and members of the technology sector to discuss the impact of the tax. Legislators could begin considering a bill to repeal the tax later this month.
The Patrick administration declined to comment on the protest.
Organizers hope to generate at least 400 calls to legislators on Tuesday, when many return to their Boston offices from summer breaks. The formal legislative session is not expected to begin for several weeks.
“We want to make sure that everyone is aware that the software community is not going to sit back,” said protest organizer Brian Cardarella, principal at DockYard LLC, a Boston software development firm. “We feel like this will push the ball the way we want it to go.”
Cardarella and his team at DockYard spent about a week building a website for the protest. Beaconhillblitz.com will give participants the phone numbers of their state representatives and suggested talking points tailored to each lawmaker. Protesters can automatically dial a legislator’s number from their computers, or call on their own phones.
“We want constituents calling. We know that legislators pay the most attention to their own constituents,” said Cardarella, who helped develop similar campaigns when he worked as a programmer for the Democratic National Committee in Washington.
The goal is not just to have businesses call to complain about the tax or threaten to move out of state, he said. He’s asking callers to talk about the specific impacts on their businesses, such as the administrative costs associated with complying with the tax law.
Several lawmakers have changed their positions on the software tax since voting for it in July. Senior Democratic lawmakers, however, such as the Senate Ways and Means chairman, Stephen Brewer, have said that despite the uproar, they are standing by the tax.
Many of Massachusetts' largest companies, such as Staples Inc. and BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc., are supporting a ballot initiative. It would ask voters to repeal the tax when they go to the polls in November 2014, during the gubernatorial election.
Small technology firms such as DockYard have been especially vocal since legislators passed the tax as part of a transportation finance bill. Many have said they were caught off guard and pledged to organize politically to ensure that “little tech” has a bigger voice on Beacon Hill.
Some of them recently formed the Spark Coalition, which intends to provide a “first responder network” for political issues that affect smaller members of the innovation economy.
In addition to using social-media sites like Twitter to rally tax opponents, the Spark Coalition is helping to fund an effort to challenge the tax in court as unconstitutional.
“This tax law took us by surprise,” admitted Joe Baz, president of the coalition and chief executive of Above the Fold, a Web and mobile app development firm in Cambridge. “We are not living and breathing stuff on the Hill.”
But, he said, the tech community can use the Web and social media to mobilize, or design programs to conduct the call-in protest.
In many ways, he said, the tax has been a wake-up call for the technology industry. “We don’t want this to be a dormant community.”Michael B. Farrell
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