School items not exempt on sales tax holiday

By Bo Lewis/The Brookhaven Daily Leader

BROOKHAVEN — Mississippi’s sales tax holiday will be held this year from July 29 to July 30, and despite legislative efforts, school supplies are still absent from the exemption list.

During the holiday, the state’s 7 percent sales tax will not be charged to articles of clothing and footwear priced below $100. There is no limit on the number of qualifying items that can be purchased.

Since the inauguration of the tax-free holiday, it has been accepted as a back-to-school event among parents. It is traditionally held the last weekend in July, days before schools gear up around the state.

Because of this, a popular mindset among citizens and some lawmakers is to include school supplies as a part of the tax exemption weekend.

An amendment pushed for this year would have included school supplies in the exemption. However, Rep. Jessica Upshaw’s bill died in committee shortly after the 2011 legislation session began in January.

Upshaw, R-Diamondhead, said she wrote that legislation to be the voice of her constituents in Hancock and Harrison counties.

“People from my area said that they would benefit from certain things being exempt in the school supplies category,” Upshaw said. “There lies a burden at this time, especially on people who have several children getting ready to start school. It would just make things easier on parents.”

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, conveyed the same necessity to help prepare families for school in any way possible.

“Once again we’re 50th in the nation in education,” she said. “If this could help kids get ready to learn, then it’s something we need to do.”

Upshaw said tax credits created for specific purchases allow consumers to spend more in other categories that are not included under the exemptions.

“And that really benefits the businesses as well as customers, and helps the economy in a great way,” Upshaw said.

Currie expressed similar sentiments.

“It actually increases revenue,” Currie said. “When you’re in the store, you can put money you save from sales tax toward something else you might need. I don’t believe there’s any losers in it.”

Brookhaven Mayor Les Bumgarner agreed that school supplies should be added to the list of exempt items.

“Adding school supplies to the legislation would be a big plus to citizens,” Bumgarner said.

Surrounding states have expanded on the clothing and shoes only notion that Mississippi has resisted.

In Alabama, customers can purchase certain school supplies, computers and books without paying state sales tax on its holiday.

Customers in Louisiana are not required to pay state sales tax on the first $2,500 of any item that is intended for nonbusiness use and is not a vehicle or food.

On Arkansas’ inaugural tax holiday, customers can buy books, school supplies and school art supplies with no added sales tax. It will be held in August.

“One of the things we have to do is look at what other states are doing,” Upshaw said. “People could easily arrange a special trip to a neighboring state to get their school supplies. And our businesses here lose a lot of money that way.”

Sen. Walter Michel, R-Jackson, agreed. However, he also raised the point that Mississippi’s tax holiday is the last weekend of July, which might entice people from neighboring states to come take advantage of the Mississippi tax exemption.

“The other states don’t have their holidays until the first week of August,” said Michel, who is not running for re-election. “That can motivate them to come here to get some of their back-to-school shopping started a week earlier.”

As for expanding the list of sales tax exempted items, Michel indicated some work remains to be done.

“It took me 10 years to be able to get a pair of shoes priced below a hundred dollars eligible for tax exemption. It’s a work in progress getting other items on there,” Michel said. “But clothes and shoes are something, a start. I guess you have to walk before you can run.”

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Sales tax holiday: A list of exempt items can be found on the Mississippi Department of Revenue’s website, http://www.dor.ms.gov