- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) | Virginia will have its back-to-school tax holiday this weekend for parents to save money on supplies needed for the school year - a welcome gift amid high gas and food prices.

This is the third consecutive year Virginia has suspended the 5 percent sales tax on school supplies and clothing. The holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday, and the tax applies to school supplies no more than $20 an item and clothing and shoes costing up to $100.

The typical pencils, crayons and paper are included in the tax exemptions, and so are such items as diapers, bathing suits and aprons. Accessories such as briefcases and cosmetics are not exempt.

The Virginia Department of Taxation expects shoppers to save $4 million this year, compared to $3.8 million in 2007. The General Assembly approved the tax break in 2006.

Consumers are expected to spend an average of $594.24 on back-to-school shopping this year, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation. The number is up from $563.49 last year, for electronics, clothing, shoes and school supplies.

The tax holiday could be especially helpful this year because of the slowing economy and higher gas prices.

Parents are having to look for ways to save because it’s “almost weekly” that they are seeing changes at the gas pump or in the grocery stores, said George Peyton, vice president of government relations for the Retail Merchants Association in Richmond.

Tricia Bellflower said she and son John, 12, agreed this year to buy only the necessities for school, meaning the seventh-grader won’t have a new wardrobe when he returns to Manchester Middle School, in Chesterfield County.

“I go to the gas station and $75 doesn’t even fill the tank,” she said. “So I’m not buying anything that’s not absolutely essential.”

Jeff Kraus, market manager for Richmond-area Wal-Mart stores, said in addition to tax-free school supplies, the chain is offering the tax-free purchases on electronics, including televisions and computers.

State law allows retailers the option of paying the 5 percent sales tax on items not covered by the regulations. Dozens of retailers plan to do so.

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