A Pathetic Pander

It’s back to school time, folks, and that means…. tax holiday! Save money on Susie’s Shrek-bedecked looseleaf binder. Pocket some change from the purchase of Johnny’s new Nikes!

Grrr. Makes me mad just to think about it!

As The Roanoke Times rightfully described this gimmick, the back-to-school holiday on the sales tax this weekend is a “pathetic pander from lawmakers.” Last year, the state lost $3.8 million in revenues thanks to the tax break. Consumers may have saved a few dollars each. Most Virginians probably didn’t even notice.

The Roanoke Times is worried about the erosion of the state’s tax base — the state has better things it could spend the money on. I suppose that’s true, but what really twists my tail is that the state finds it worthwhile to encourage consumer spending. We don’t have a consumer-spending problem in the United States. Oh, let me rephrase that. We do have a consumer spending problem — consumers spend too much. They rack up credit card debt and default on their loans. They pile up all sorts of junk they don’t need and often, upon reflection, conclude they don’t even want. If anything, the state should encourage people to save, not spend!

This narrow-bore tax break doesn’t do too much damage by itself, but it’s part and parcel of a larger problem: littering the state tax code with a special exemptions. When you see a McDonald’s bag on the side of highway, you don’t notice it. But when the fast food bags, candy bar wrappers, soft drink cans and other detritus from our mass consumer culture pile up, the road looks pretty nasty. It’s the same with tax exemptions.

Back in 2003, the Warner administration calculated that dozens of loopholes in the sales, corporate income tax and personal income taxes added up to $600 million per year. (Here’s the list.) No social or economic objective of critical importance was advanced by those tax breaks. The General Assembly has only added to the list since then, repealing very little — if anything at all. If we scotched all these mini tax breaks, we could do something meaningful with the money. The Roanoke Times might prefer to spend the money on poor people, while I recommend using it to eliminate the corporate income tax. Whatever, with that much money, the state could do something bold and make a difference.

To quote the Roanoke Times again, “the tax holiday has nothing to do with sound fiscal policy. It is all about diverting voter attention from the real problems confronting the state.” Amen.

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  1. Church Hill Dem Avatar
    Church Hill Dem

    I’m there with you–if legislators were truly interested in rectifying what they say is their motive (making school supplies, etc. more affordable), then perhaps they should just better-fund the schools in the first place so parents weren’t required to purchase a treasure trove of supplies the schools should have on hand in the first place.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    What a grinch. You say you are opposed to new taxes, whats wrong with less taxes in the form of a little holiday.

    It isn’t much, give people a break.

  3. Groveton Avatar

    Our legislature at work. They can’t come up with a transportation plan but they can pass a laundry list of tax exemptions and credits – most to benefit some special interest group.

  4. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Amen, amen, amen. It is a scam. A political ploy. A come on. A con.

    If you give a (shall not curse…) – the right thing to do is roll back the sales tax a bit. That helps the poor, those on fixed incomes, just starting out, etc.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    For Chrissakes, Bacon, you can be such a curmudegeon!

    What’s wrong with giving hard-working moms and dads a little back-to-school break?

    You’d probably want them to chatter on about high-minded public policies like some Baconaut wonk.

    Not everyone is like you.

    Peter Galuszka

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Isn’t this rolling back the tax just a bit?

  7. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Anon: A bit for me, like a smidgen , pinch, dollop,tad etc. is an idiosyncratic measure. I think it equals one-half a per cent reduction in the sales tax – all year.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m with Peter on this one. With more and more businesses dependent on government appropriations, either directly or indirectly, for their very existence, government spending may never become controlled. So what’s wrong with giving ordinary people a way to save a couple of dollars?


    A condition of receiving any government contract should be a promise not to lobby for the program that is the subject of the contract.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    well heckfire… if we are going to be in such a magnanimous mood…. let’s get rid of the entire gas tax – permanently….

    Now that fulfills the two biggest gripes in this thread… that’s it’s not permanent and it’s not significant.

    My suggestions quite easily meets both objectives.

    no applause, please.

  10. The Logician Avatar
    The Logician

    I think the point Bacon is trying to make (with which I whole-heartedly agree) is that all these nickel-and-dime, “THIS WEEKEND ONLY!!!” tax breaks are overly complicated and do more to buoy political popularity than save people any real money.

    The simple plans would be eliminate all these special tax breaks and holidays and replace it with a broad, uniform tax reduction. Or use the money lost from these holidays and fix some broken state infrastructure.

    I’m willing to bet that if all these fly-by-night tax exemptions disappeared tomorrow, very few, if any, would really notice. Besides, tell me how this tax break helps the hard-up single parent who’ll be working this weekend and will be unable to get school supplies until Tuesday? Doesn’t it make sense to take the money we’re intending them to “save” through this promotion and simply convert it into an addition to the dependent exemption on our income taxes???

    Oh wait, but then Delegate X couldn’t brag about it in his election year mailbox fliers.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    You guys are not being near generous enough in your condemnation.

    This is I suggest a double pronged deal. The legislature does this for all the reasons listed above, and deserve the criticism. But criticism should also be sent toward the local city councils, boads of supervisors, and school boards for their roll in this.

    Back in the day, I went off to the first day of school with a bookbag, binder, filler paper, and some pencils…that’s it. The school system assumed the responsibility of supplying supplies like scissors, glue, crayons, sandwich bags (?). My 2nd grader has to show up with 24 #2 pencils on the first day!

    Oh, and these supplies may “have to be repelenished” as the year goes on.

    It appears to me that the schools see a way to spend less by not buying supplies as they once did. The various governing bodies that have real or advisory control of their budgets don’t squawk because it is that much less tax money to hit constituents with…the supplies are still needed, and could like be purchased by the school system in bulk at a lower cost, but that would mean a higher tax rate….

    …which is when the local delegate jumps in with a tax holiday so you don’t have to pay sales tax on items you could have spent less on (in tax dollars) if they were purchased in bulk through a central purchasing agent-like they used to be back in the day.

    Oh, and that is before we start to get fundraising stuff from every school organization from the PTA to the drama club…but that is another subject.

    There is a lot of fingerpointing that can be done about the tax holiday, and it goes farther than this string of comments has addressed…


  12. Anonymous Avatar

    The tax holiday effectively amounts to the legislature making the unsubstantiated claim that people with children entering a new school year have more property rights than others, and then enforcing that edict.


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