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Bob Wooten: Sales tax holiday a relief for the weary

If the recession has you counting pennies, I have good news.

You can count on saving a nickel on every dollar spent next weekend for school clothes and supplies.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 7-9, is Virginia's annual sales tax holiday. The commonwealth's 5 percent levy on retail sales will be waived for purchases aimed at getting the kids outfitted for the coming school year.

As much as it sticks in my throat to say it, this is one instance where the General Assembly came up with a really good idea. In 2007, lawmakers approved legislation creating the sales tax holiday on the first weekend of August as a way to help families factoring back-to-school shopping into their budgets.

It doesn't take long for new sneakers, notebooks, pencils, art supplies and bluejeans to turn into hundreds of dollars, especially if you have a whole carload of kids heading back to class.

Of course, back in 2007 home prices were still soaring, Chrysler and GM were rolling out SUVs at high speed, unemployment was around 4.5 percent and the Dow was above 12,000. Saving a few bucks on school supplies didn't seem quite so important at the time.

What a difference a couple of years can make.

Next weekend, recession-weary moms and dads all over the state will be glad get that 5 percent break when they line up at the cash register.

There are a few catches.

For school supplies, the tax break only applies to individual items with a sales price of $20 or less. For articles of clothing, it's $100 or less.

Also, the Department of Taxation has a pretty specific list of items that are -- and are not -- covered by the tax break.

Everything from binders to bookbags make the list of approved supplies. So do pens, protractors, highlighters, scissors, sheet music, calculators, legal pads, textbooks, watercolors and dictionaries.

Unfortunately, computers are excluded. I know there are few $19.99 laptops on the market, but our senators and delegates ought to revisit the question. Most students can't make it through high school these days without a computer and Internet access. For college students, it's almost mandatory. Why shouldn't the tax holiday help students get connected?

We might even come up with a revenue-neutral solution simply by axing some of the bizarre clothing items covered by the tax break.

Aren't we are sending the wrong message to high school students by including diapers, baby bibs, baby clothes and baby receiving blankets on a list of back-to-school essentials? And exactly what does "wedding apparel, including veils (sold not rented)" have to do with algebra?

The same question also applies to girdles, pajamas, flip-flops and suspenders.

I know a lot has changed since I was in school (there's a lot more history to study, for example) but I'm pretty sure "garters and garter belts" weren't on anyone's shopping list back then.

For more information on Virginia's sales tax holiday, go to the Virginia Department of Taxation's Web site, www.tax.virginia.gov.

* Bob Wooten is the managing editor of the Daily. Contact him at 800-296-5137 or at <a href="mailto:bwooten@nvdaily.com">bwooten@nvdaily.com</a>.




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