Outdoor execs vow to fight tax bill

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The outdoor advertising industry, publicly addressing a renewed threat from environmental group Scenic America at the Traffic Audit Bureau convention, vowed to fight legislation introduced by Sen. James M. Jeffords (R., Vt.) and Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.) that calls for a 15% tax on outdoor ad revenues.

The bill, tied to reauthorization of highway funding, also seeks a nationwide cap on the number of boards, the prohibition of tree cutting for board visibility and other measures.


"We're not taking this threat lightly," said Ruth Segal, exec VP-government affairs for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. "We feel fairly confident we can control this legislation and it will not go far."

"Tax committees made it clear this is a year for no new taxes. And the movement in Washington is that government is too big," Ms. Segal said. "That philosophy doesn't fit in with [Scenic America's] efforts for greater government control."

Scenic America said in a new report that the 1965 Highway Beautification Act is a "failure" with numerous loopholes and that federal and state regulation of outdoor boards is lax.

Even though boards are supposed to be limited to commercial and industrial areas, Scenic America contends many of the 5,000 to 15,000 new boards erected annually violate that rule.

"They're doing their darnedest to prove we're a public health hazard," said Ms. Segal. "Their opposition makes our job easier, since they come across as fanatics."

States with the strongest board growth were Ohio, Nevada, Washington and West Virginia, Scenic America said. OAAA said annual board growth rate is 7% nationally.


The outdoor industry has been under a similar threat periodically for years.

"They take a potshot at us with every highway bill, it's just a different cast of characters," said OAAA President Nancy Fletcher. "I don't even expect a fight."

Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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