Friday, May 22, 2009

If It's Hurricane Season ...

Norm Leahy reminds us at the Tertium Quids blog that, starting Monday -- Memorial Day -- there is a week-long tax holiday for Virginia shoppers who purchase various items related to hurricane preparedness. There is also an annual tax holiday for back-to-school purchases.

Earlier this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency that studies tropical storms and tracks them year to year, predicted that this year's hurricane season will be about normal -- perhaps as many as 14 storms that earn names, and about half of those might become hurricanes. Any one of those, of course, could make landfall and wreak havoc for homeowners and businesses, especially those close to the coast. (My house is still missing part of the rain gutter that was torn down by a falling tree during Hurricane Isabel, which was the "costliest and deadliest" Atlantic storm of 2003. And I live more than 175 miles from the ocean.)

The Daily Press conveniently provides the entire list of products that are tax-exempt next week, providing they cost $60 or less:

- Artificial ice, blue ice, ice packs and reusable ice
- Batteries (excludes automobile or boat batteries, but includes cell phone batteries)
- Any portable self-powered light source including flashlights, lanterns and glowsticks
- Portable self-powered radios (including self-powered radios with electrical power capability)
- Two-way radios
- Weather band radios and NOAA radios
- Tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, plastic drop cloths and other flexible waterproof sheeting
- Bungee cords and rope
- Ground anchor systems or tie down kits
- Ratchet straps
- Duct tape
- Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors
- Fire extinguishers
- Gas or diesel fuel tanks or containers
- Water storage containers
- Nonelectric food storage coolers
- Bottled water
- Manual can openers
- Storm shutter devices (but this does not include plywood, which is often used to board windows during hurricane season)
- Cell phone chargers
- First aid kits
There are also two items you can buy without paying a sales tax, if they cost less than $1,000:
- Portable generators and generator power cords
- Inverters and inverter power cables
This is one of a handful of tax holidays legislated by the Virginia General Assembly. As Norm put it last year around this time:
A far more rational, and sustainable, effort to ease the financial burden on taxpayers is to advocate for and enact the most moderate tax regime possible. No loopholes, no gimmicks, no giveaways, no special taxing districts or fees masquerading as taxes. But that's hardly the sort of approach that generates press releases. Or sells much duct tape.
If we can't have general tax relief year-round, at least we should make these gimmicky tax holidays easier to understand. I wrote about this issue way back in 2006, and I stand by what I said then:
The easiest, most logical, most consumer- and business-friendly thing to do for the tax holiday would simply have been to decree that on this particular three-day weekend, all items with a retail price of $100 or less would be tax-exempt. That would be simple to program into stores' computers, and it would be simple for the average customer -- that is, taxpayer -- to understand.

Well, nobody ever accused legislators of being consumer-friendly -- or logical.

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