This is a tax increase?

We had a Weird Al Yankovic moment this week. We got a news release from an outfit called United for Missouri run by former state representative Carl Bearden. The headline proclaimed, “Many Missouri Cities and Counties Increase Taxes for Weekend Shoppers.”

Understand that this weekend is the annual Sales Tax Holiday weekend, a three-day period when the state does not charge its sales tax on school-related items regardless of whether they are bought for school use or for students. If your 93-year old Uncle Wilbur needs some new high-rise pants, he won’t have to pay the state sales tax when he buys them. Uncle Wilbur is not likely to need these new pants to start third grade later this month. But because third graders also will be getting a lot of new pants this weekend, the pants are considered school supplies under the Sales Tax Holiday law. The same if Uncle W. got a new pencil box or even a new computer.

But the law says cities, counties, and special taxing districts can opt out of the holiday and keep collecting their local sales taxes. A lot of those jurisdictions have decided they cannot afford to give up those funds when money for streets and sewers and police officers and fire departments and local health departments is tight. So Uncle Wilber might not pay the state sales tax on his new high-risers but he will pay the local sales tax.

“Tax Increase!” claims Bearden, who proclaims that the entities that are opting out of the holiday are “in effect, raising taxes on shoppers.”

In the education system most of us went through, we’re sure our teachers taught us that one definition for the word “raise” is “increase,” and implies (in the case of, say, taxes for instance) that “increase” refers to “more.” And “more” does not mean “the same.” But on this holiday weekend, the entities that are not taking part are charging “the same” local tax as they have been charging. And “the same” does not mean “increase.”
And that is why some of Weird Al’s lyrics came to mind when we saw United for Missouri’s news release saying “the same” means “increase.”

Everything you know is wrong
Black is white, up is down and short is long
And everything you used to think was so important
Doesn’t really matter anymore
Because the simple fact remains that

Everything you know is wrong
Just forget the words and sing along
All you need to understand is
Everything you know is wrong
Everything you know is wrong

We’ll see if we get a news release next week that says the resumption of collection of the state sales tax on Monday is a tax increase. After all, on Monday, Uncle Wilbur will be paying 4.225% more for his new pants than he paid on Sunday. If paying the same is an increase, we can’t help but wonder what United Missouri will call paying more.

Gosh, being a political reporter in Missouri sure is fun.

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5 thoughts on “This is a tax increase?

  1. Every city, county and special district that opts out is increasing the taxes for that weekend. If they did not opt out, the taxes would not be the “same” they would in fact be lower.

    • The author has no desire to debate the issue with the creator of the news release but would instead gently offer the observation that it might be more accurate to say that cities, counties, and districts opting out of the holiday are refusing to “lower” their taxes rather than raising them for, indeed, the local rate does not change. Generally accepted accounting principles (I have picked that up from reading state audits for several decades) would probably hold that refusing to lower does not mean “increase.” Put in more simple mathematical terms that Miss Pinney, my first grade teacher, taught me, one minus zero does not equal two. The honorable critic of this blog is, however, entitled to whatever form of mathematics suits his purposes and it is nice to know that he is a consumer of the wisdom we spread here.

  2. Pingback: Some in Media Have Difficulty with Financial Concepts | United for Missouri

  3. Always enjoy MissouriNet.

    Your observation regarding the “correct terms” might be fair if the taxes were not already set at zero for the weekend automatically. It takes an action to increase them for the weekend, not keep them the same. That would make Miss Pinney’s forumula zero plus one = one which is great than zero and thus an increase. We will simply have to agree to disagree on the issue.

    Thank you for the discourse.

  4. I, along with most reasonable citizens, agree with Bob – the taxes haven’t changed, up or down. They are simply exempted or not as part of another political gimmick. Republicans dislike all taxes and love to scare people with the term, “tax increase.” Continue shouting at the wall, Carl.

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