Jewish World Review August 17, 2001 / 28 Menachem-Av, 5761
The trouble with tax-free holidays
MY daughter's still in diapers, but I'm taking her "back-to-school"
shopping this week. Here in Maryland, politicians have established a
tax-free, retail holiday to pander to the soccer-mom crowd. The trend
was started in New York and copied in Connecticut, Florida, Iowa,
Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and the District of Columbia.
We should take back every penny from the government that we can get. But
let the buyer beware: These election-year ploys are a popular way to
bribe beleaguered taxpayers without ever having to pass lasting,
across-the-board tax relief.
During a brief summer respite, leading liberals in some of the nation's
highest-taxing areas turn into ardent Reaganite supply-siders. Maryland
officials, for example, say that increased economic activity from our
tax-free spree -- officials estimate up to $150 million in sales -- will
more than make up for roughly $6 million in lost government revenue.
Well, if it's such a fabulous idea for a few days in August, why not the
rest of the year? Or why not follow the lead of Alaska, Delaware,
Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon - which have no state sales tax at all
and are prospering just fine?
Ask these questions and the tax-cutting converts crumble: Heavens, no.
We'd have to reduce spending. Things would get out of the control.
Maintaining control is what these stingy little holidays are all about.
Instead of giving us back our money and letting us spend it as we see
fit (as the Bush federal tax rebates do), these local shopping gimmicks
come with tangled strings attached:
The trouble with transitory tax-free holidays is that they are token
givebacks designed to maximize political gain, ensure full employment
for revenue collectors, and undermine support for comprehensive tax
reform and real spending cuts. Creating a few sales-tax-free days in
August distracts bargain-hunting shoppers from the outrageous fact that
it takes them until July 6 to pay off the total tax and regulatory
burden that governments at all levels impose every year.
Maryland. In addition to legitimate school apparel under $100, scores
of non-school items qualify for the exemption from the state's 5 percent
sales tax. On the list: adult diapers, arm warmers, bowling shirts,
bridal gowns, clerical vestments, corsets, baby diapers, fur coats,
support hose, and tennis skirts. The list of non-qualifying items,
however, is even longer and weirder. Swim trunks are exempt, but swim
goggles are not. Hand muffs are exempt, but head bands are not. Hiking
boots are tax-free, but backpacks are taxed. Rented shoes and flip flops
are exempt, but not shoes with cleats. Bib overalls are okay, but not
- New York. In 2000, the state passed a permanent exemption from its 4
percent sales tax on clothing less than $110. Many cities eliminated
their matching local sales taxes. But because of confusing regulations,
the big tax grab continues. New York City found that 40 percent of
stores surveyed are still collecting full sales taxes on tax-free items.
Shoulder pads for dresses are exempt, but pads for athletic uniforms are
not. Receiving blankets are tax free, but not crib blankets. Caps are
covered, but not hair bows. Ballet shoes qualify, but not roller skates.
Can you blame the poor retailers - who will now be hounded by tax
enforcers and possibly be required to undergo "multilingual" training
seminars-- for being confused?
- Texas. Vests are tax-free unless they act as personal floatation
devices. Belt buckles are taxed unless attached to the belt. Golf shirts
and golf skirts are exempt, but golf shoes and golf gloves are taxable.
Sunglasses are taxed unless they come with a prescription.
- Florida. In the Sunshine State, snowsuits are tax-free under the law.
So are pens, but not highlighters or markers. Glue gets a discount, but
not staples. Book bags qualify, but not briefcases. Wallets are tax free
unless they come with a key chain.
Alas, demanding a permanent vacation from this tax oppression is about
as unfashionable as last year's school
JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.
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© 2001, Creators Syndicate