Bush hit and miss on new tech tax

The president of Watertown-based athenahealth says the new tax unfairly targets companies like his

The new computer and software services tax is stirring strong opposition in the business community – and a large dose of confusion as well.

Jonathan Bush, the president of Watertown-based athenahealth, which uses cloud-based services to help medical practices coordinate electronic health records and care, said after an event this week with Gov. Deval Patrick that the new tax unfairly targets companies like his.

“We feel burned by it,” Bush said. “This is this tax that looks like it’s created for us. I don’t even know any other companies that fit that profile, and that’s the weird thing about these specialized laws.”

Bush said he doesn’t mind the state raising broad-based taxes if it needs funds to provide services. “If you want to raise taxes, raise taxes,” Bush said. “Take it up, whatever the corporate tax is, to more. But to pick out a company just like us, tax us so that we now look more expensive than a software company that doesn’t actually deliver results, drives me berserk.”

As Bush made his comments, someone in the crowd told him that the new tax wouldn’t apply to his company’s cloud-based software. Bush nevertheless said he was opposed to it.

“I think in general the idea of picking winners and losers, and taxing this guy but not that guy, seems like a dangerous way to go,” Bush said.

Bush spoke after the company unveiled plans for a massive redevelopment of the Arsenal on the Charles propery in Watertown. During the Wednesday event, Patrick said he was going to have a “powwow” later that day with lawmakers and business leaders to discuss the new tech tax, which is coming under increasing fire from the business community.

“Why is he having powwows?” Bush asked. “Why isn’t it just the same for everybody?”

Meet the Author
“That’s my philosophy on taxes, just keep it simple, tell us what they are” Bush said. “If they’re high they’re high, if they’re low they’re low, as long as they’re the same for everybody we’ll play in that environment.”

Officials at athenahealth said later that the original computer and software services tax as drafted by the Patrick administration did cover the type of cloud-based services offered by the company. However, the Legislature subsequently changed the language of the tax several times, and the final result was a provision that would exclude cloud services. One company official said Bush apparently wasn’t aware of the changes made in subsequent versions of the law.