- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 29, 2006

RICHMOND — Five percent might seem like a small savings to savvy shoppers who typically seek out clearance sales of half-off or better.

But some Virginia retailers think that the nickel coming out of the government’s pocket is enough to entice shoppers to participate in the state’s first back-to-school, sales-tax holiday.

“It truly is the mind-set that they’re getting something over on the government,” said Laurie Peterson Aldrich, president of the Virginia Retail Merchants Association.

From Friday until Aug. 6, Virginia shoppers will not have to pay the 5 percent sales tax on school supplies costing no more than $20 an item and on clothing and shoes costing no more than $100. Similar tax holidays have been popular in the District and in other states, including Maryland.

In all, 13 states and the District offer the tax break.

Virginia’s General Assembly approved the break in part to keep residents from taking their back-to-school business to the District and neighboring states.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. stores in states with back-to-school sales tax holidays are always busy on those days, spokesman Tim Lyons said.

“We have some stores say it’s comparable to the weekend after Thanksgiving,” he said.

Mr. Lyons also said the department store chain plans to mention Virginia’s tax holiday in its advertising for next weekend’s back-to-school sales.

The temporary tax cut is expected to save Virginians $3.6 million this year, state budget analysts said.

Computers also were originally included in Virginia’s legislation but were eliminated as the bill moved through the General Assembly. However, at least one major retailer plans to pay the sales tax on computers and related equipment for its customers.

Exactly how many retailers plan to piggyback on the back-to-school tax break is impossible to determine because they are not required to inform state officials in advance.

The Virginia Department of Taxation has developed written guidelines, along with lists of items that are covered.

The school supplies list includes 39 items, from binders to writing tablets. Consumers get the savings regardless of whether the items are intended for school use, which is a potential benefit for such shoppers as artists stocking up on brushes and paint or anyone in the market for certain office supplies.

The clothing list includes several items not normally associated with school: baby bibs, aprons, lingerie, wedding apparel and diapers.

State officials said they worked with retailers to develop the lists and have received few comments since publishing them.

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