Death May Take a Holiday, But Taxes Never Do

You know, if the public servants we have in elected office weren't so dangerous, they would be hilarious. What the hell, they're hilarious anyway.

What prompts this observation? It's the latest effort by Gov. Roy Barnes and the State Legislature of Georgia at a government sponsored 'benefit cum social-engineering experiment'--the 'Shop Georgia' Sales Tax Holiday. The first tax holiday period begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday, March 29 and continues until midnight March 30, 2002. The second tax holiday period will begin at 12:01 a.m. Friday, August 2 and continue until midnight August 3, 2002.

Ostensibly, this exercise is an attempt on the part of the government of the State of Georgia to stimulate the local economy by getting the shoppers out to the stores. The stated purpose is to encourage the purchase of school supplies, clothing, computers, etc. What results is a hilarious hodge-podge of confusion that reads like legislation-by-lobbyist, with all the proper class warfare issues duly taken into consideration. It shows a government that is so fearful of actually missing any tax revenue that it couldn't simply offer a general tax amnesty period. Instead, it was compelled to publish a convoluted guide as to what is and isn't eligible for the tax exemption that resembles a tax code primer.

From the Georgia Department of Revenue press release dated March 5, 2001 comes the following, quoted verbatim:

'These sales tax holidays will help Georgia families save money on many of the items they need,' said Georgia Revenue Commissioner T. Jerry Jackson. 'However, there are some limitations and special features, which are important for the shopping public to understand.

'For example, clothing and footwear is exempt up to $100 per item, and there is no limit on the number of eligible clothing or footwear items an individual can purchase without sales tax. During the holiday, sales tax will only be collected on the full purchase price of any item that exceeds $100,' the Commissioner explained.

Accessories, jewelry, handbags, luggage, umbrellas, wallets and other similar items are not exempt from sales tax during the tax holiday period.

Athletic clothing and footwear that are not normally worn except for their intended athletic use will not be exempt from sales tax. For example, since basketball shoes are worn for many activities other than basketball, the tax will not be due during the holiday period. However, golf shoes and baseball cleats are rarely worn except when playing golf or baseball and thus are not tax exempt.

School supplies are exempt up to $20 per item and like clothing and footwear, there is no limit on the number of items that can be purchased. Sales tax will be due on the purchase of any individual item costing more than $20.

Georgia shoppers can also purchase computer hardware and accessories up to $1,500 tax-free during the 'Shop Georgia!' weekend.

'This will allow families to save money on the purchase of home computers and accessories,' said Commissioner Jackson. 'Purchases must include a computer base unit and sales tax will be due on any amount that exceeds the $1,500.'

A computer base unit is either a laptop, desktop or tower computer system. Printers, scanners, monitors, educational software, modems and other similar items, will be exempt from sales taxes when purchased with a base unit.

Computer software that is considered recreational is not eligible for the exemption. Likewise, the exemption does not include furniture, cell phones, or similar items.

The sales tax exemption is intended only for individuals for personal use, it does not apply to purchases made by a business, to items leased or rented, or items sold at sports facilities, theme parks, restaurants, public lodging establishments and airports.

The average shopper will need a tax attorney with them just to figure out whether an item qualifies or not. In reality, the burden of making that determination will fall to the retailers, who have had to sort through this mess beforehand. One can just envision the checkout counter delays as shoppers are told that item A qualifies, while item B does not.

The truly perverse aspect of this is the arbitrariness of it all. A computer accessory purchased with a computer (not to exceed $1500) will qualify for the exemption, but the same accessory purchased by a consumer who already has a computer and doesn't need a new one this weekend, does not.

Why, you might ask? Obviously, the government wants its citizens to buy new computers (not to exceed $1500, of course). In the same manner, they want you to buy shoes (without cleats) and clothing (not to exceed $100 per item), but not umbrellas or wallets. Why do they really care what you spend the money on anyway? Isn't a dollar spent on a handbag just as good as a dollar spent on a jacket? Why is a single $21 school item taxable on the last dollar, but two $20 dollar items slide under the bar with no tax? In a detail that borders on the truly bizarre, the NBC affiliate in Atlanta pointed out in their March 29, 2002 nightly news broadcast that standard metal paper clips were tax exempt, but colored ones were not. What kind of tortured logic is that? What sort of pathetic bureaucrat does it take to make that distinction for the purpose of levying taxes?

Some might think that they really want you to buy all of it, but they just can't let go of the tax revenue on all but the narrowly defined, pre-selected government approved items, and that, once in the store, the shopper will spend anyway because they are clueless as to what does, or doesn't, actually qualify. It's really just a scheme to bait shoppers into accelerated spending, with only the best planners realizing any significant savings.

Of course, that could never be the case. Only a cynic would think that.

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Jef Allen's picture
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Jef Allen is a technology professional living in Georgia. He has a "zero-tolerance" policy toward political correctness, the coerced redistribution of wealth, central planning wonks, and people who actually think we are winning the "war on drugs."