- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2000

New York has one. So do Texas and Florida. The District, Maryland and Virginia are considering one. What is it? Tax-free shopping days.
Governments in this region are trying to move in the same direction as other legislatures by instituting a moratorium on sales taxes. Not a blanket moratorium on sales taxes, such as is the case in Delaware, although that would certainly be welcome. What lawmakers in this region are doing is putting a little more money in your pocket while shopping for back-to-school clothes.
In the District, for example, D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz last year introduced legislation that would eliminate the retail sales tax on clothing, shoes and accessories costing $100 or less per item. It is a smart bill, and one that encourages D.C. residents to spend their dollars right here in the city. It also will boost retail sales.
"Sales taxes are among the most punitive and regressive of all taxes," says Mrs. Schwartz. "Those hit the hardest are low-income families and fixed-income seniors, for whom every dollar, every dime, counts. Our merchants will be able to use this measure to promote shopping in Washington, and the customers they attract … may end up buying higher-priced clothing or other big-ticket merchandise that is taxable."
Maryland lawmakers have the same interests. In a 130-6 vote, the House passed legislation last month that would grant a similar tax break. There are important differences, however. While the D.C. measure calls for permanent elimination of the sales tax on clothing, the House of Delegates proposes eliminating the tax for only one week between Aug. 11 and Aug. 17 of this year. Lawmakers said they will revisit the tax break before deciding whether it should be revised. The Maryland Senate, meanwhile, is working on legislation as well.
Virginia lawmakers have rejected similar measures in recent years, perhaps because of the effect it would have on retailers at Potomac Mills, one of America's largest and most popular outlet malls. Yet, interestingly enough, that is precisely why Maryland lawmakers are urging a sales tax break.
In recent years, Marylanders and D.C. residents have been spending big bucks in Delaware, where outlets are plentiful and where there is no sale tax. Pennsylvania does not tax clothing, and busloads of folks in the Washington region take day trips there and to Delaware just to shop, especially in late summer and around the Christmas holidays.
New York, Florida and Texas implemented their tax-free shopping laws last year. Time for the District, Maryland and Virginia to do the same.

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