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 Xbox 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, promoting 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.
New Mexico State Parks already offers outdoor programs, but the funding is just a fraction of what the tax would bring in.