Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fighting for a "Back to School" Sales Tax Holiday

One of my top legislative priorities, as it has been over the past few years, is to enact Oklahoma’s version of the “Back to School” sales tax holiday. For years, Texas shoppers – and those Oklahomans who cross the border – enjoy tax-free shopping during the first weekend in August on clothing and shoes costing less than $100 per item.

Millions of dollars in economic activity and sales tax revenue are lost from Oklahoma every year as thousands of our residents cross the border for the sales tax exemption. In addition to the revenue loss our cities, counties and the state endures, Oklahoma’s retailers are at a huge competitive disadvantage that weekend.

Even more heartbreaking, those Oklahoma families who cannot afford to make a trip are stuck paying the full sales tax on back to school clothes. There is no compelling reason to oppose an Oklahoma “Back to School” sales tax holiday.

However, one group continues to fight the proposal: the Oklahoma Municipal League (OML). This organization of city governments, funded with our tax dollars, sends their lobbyists to intimidate legislators with scare tactics and distortions.

They tell the tall tale that a “Back to School” sales tax holiday would destroy the budgets of cities and counties that depend on sales tax revenue. That argument appears compelling, until you look at the facts.

Every state that has passed a “Back to School” sales tax holiday has seen revenues increase, not decrease as the OML warns. The reason is increased economic activity – more people spend more money during the sales tax holiday. That will happen here, too.

Also, millions of dollars that annually flow across the border to Texas – lost forever to our economy – would stay at home if we had a sales tax holiday. The result would be an even stronger sales tax boost for cities and counties.

The second reason cities and counties would not suffer a revenue loss is a provision we have written into the bill. The measure states that should any city or county suffer a revenue loss when compared to the year before, the state would make it up to them.

Given those facts, the only reason the OML would continue to oppose a “Back to School” sales tax holiday is what my mother used to call “pure-D stubborness.” It would be a shame if stubborness stood in the way of this common sense tax cut targeted to help Oklahoma working families and retailers.

As in years past, I have reached across party lines, creating a bipartisan effort to pass this law. A Republican senator and I will co-author the measure in the Senate, while the new House majority leader is our sponsor in the House of Representatives.

While we have a tough road ahead of us, given to the lengths to which OML lobbyists go to kill this bill every year, I will continue to do everything I can to enact this law. I will continue introducing this measure until it becomes the law of the land, or my time in the Senate is over.

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