AOPA helps balloon operator hit with $8,000 tax bill

February 11, 2009

Balloon operationsWhen Howard County, Md., tried to charge an area balloon operator a local “amusement tax,” the balloonist and AOPA got together to fight the county—and won.

Ron Broderick, owner of the Friendship Hot Air Balloon Co., was charged more than $8,000 in back taxes after the county audited his business and determined he should be paying a local amusement tax. But Broderick and AOPA argued that because balloon flights are federally regulated, they are not subject to local amusement taxes.

Hot air balloonCounty council member Gregory Fox agreed and introduced legislation exempting hot air balloon operators from the tax. Mark Kimberling, AOPA manager of state legislative affairs, testified in favor of the exemption at a council hearing on the exemption.

“Balloon operations are regulated by the FAA just like airplane or helicopter operations, and they deserve the same protections from local regulations,” said Kimberling. “AOPA will continue to work to ensure fair treatment of all types of federally regulated aviation activities.”

On Feb. 2, the county council unanimously passed the exemption, but the state comptroller’s office has said that any taxes owed before the resolution was passed are still owed. Broderick is set to appeal that decision at a hearing with the comptroller’s office later this month. But Broderick, a longtime AOPA member, is hopeful that he can prevail with the help of his association.

“As I continue this effort, it is very reassuring to me to have the support of the AOPA state legislative affairs staff,” said Broderick. “Comptrollers are coming after me now, then all balloonists in Maryland, and then all commercial fixed wing and helicopter services providing sightseeing excursions in Maryland. We need to correct this error and show that a federal law preempts state law in this case.”