NORWALK, Conn. – Politicians have been racing to deliver the good news – it’s tax-free week.
In what may have been an orchestrated effort, emails lauding the chance to temporarily escape the government funding burden known as sales tax landed in the NancyOnNorwalk inbox in the following order: state rep first, state senator second, then, oh my, the governor.
Or is Gail Lavielle just more on top of things?
The Republican Wilton-Norwalk-Westport representative sent her email on Aug. 9.
“With the start of school just around the corner, it’s time for back-to-school shopping for many families. Fortunately, it’s time for Connecticut’s annual Tax-Free Week as well,” she explained helpfully. “Tax-Free Week runs from Sunday, August 18 through Saturday, August 24. During that time, purchases of clothing and footwear under $300 are exempt from sales tax, which is 6.35 percent of the purchase price of these items.”
This was helpfully followed by a history lesson.
“Tax-Free Week was first enacted in 2000, and applies to most clothing and footwear purchases that are intended for everyday use,” she wrote. “Goods not covered under the program include items that are solely intended for use in sporting activities and accessories such as jewelry, watches, handbags, and wallets. By law, Tax Free Week runs from the third Sunday in August to the following Saturday.”
Then came the Republican spin.
“We almost lost Tax-Free Week during the budget negotiations of 2011, the year that residents and businesses experienced the largest tax increase in Connecticut’s history, including an increase in the sales tax from 6 percent to 6.35 percent,” she wrote. “Fortunately, my colleagues and I were able to work with the administration and the legislative majority to preserve it. Even though the state’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates that the state will give up about $3.5 million during this year’s tax holiday, I believe the benefits for consumers and businesses are worth the revenue loss.”
There’s more. You’re hurting enough, she said, as the unemployment rate in Connecticut is, at 8 percent, higher than both the national and New England averages. Then, “Just last month, the wallets of everyone in Connecticut took another hit with the 16 percent increase in the gasoline tax. This has brought the price of a gallon of gas close to 50 cents, making it the third highest in the country. At the same time the diesel tax increased by 3.5 percent, and this will have a ripple effect, raising consumer costs on everything from groceries and clothing to construction, as well as other goods and services. In this context, any tax relief is welcome.”
With that beating, it’s a wonder that Democratic state Sen. Bob Duff came out of the woodwork to offer his own sunny spin.
“As summer winds down, the back-to-school season becomes a very busy time for both parents and children. There are new schedules to adjust to, and often a fair amount of shopping to get done. Tax free week makes it a little easier to purchase some of those necessary items, so I encourage everyone to take advantage of it,” Duff said in a press release sent on Aug. 14 – five days later than Laveille.
Exempt items include shirts, jeans, socks, gloves, hats, rain jackets and sneakers, and are listed on the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services’ website, the release said.
“Families can save even more by planning ahead and comparing prices between stores using sales circulars in Sunday papers and the stores’ websites,” the release said. “Consumers should also keep an eye out for coupons, as items valued at more than, but discounted to, under $300 with sales, coupons, and similar merchant promotions will also be exempt from the state sales tax.”
Gov. Dannel Malloy came in last, with a Friday press release. That must have given his staff plenty of time to get input, as the release quotes three — count ’em, three — government officials, and a merchant.
Lavielle had it wrong, according to Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan, who is quoted by Malloy’s staff as saying the state expects to forego between $7 million and $8 million during the week — not the paltry $3.5 million quoted by Lavielle.
“Sales tax-free week is the right time to shop for back to school or back to college but also for seasonal items like winter coats and boots,” Sullivan allegedly said. “Best of all, merchant promotions will bring the sale price of more expensive items down below the $300 tax-free level.”
Who’s the merchant? Connecticut Retail Merchants Association (CRMA) President Tim Phelan.
“CRMA views the sales tax-free week as a win-win for all parties,” he said, according to Malloy’s staff. “It’s a win for consumers because they get to see real savings on their purchases, a win for the state because these purchases and others will stay in the state, and a win for retailers who will see increased sales.”
Sorry, not going to include the Malloy and Jane Wyman comments.
Just because it’s fun, let’s go back to Lavielle.
“Because of its tax burden, high costs of living and doing business, and sluggish job growth, Connecticut continues to lose people and businesses to other states,” she wrote. “I’ll continue to fight for tax relief to reduce the financial pressure on consumers, lower costs for all businesses, and make our state more competitive. Meanwhile, I’m glad that you can take at least advantage of Tax-Free Week.”