Sales tax: Don’t overthink it

By The Curry Coastal Pilot June 18, 2013 10:31 pm

Curry County commissioners are down to their last-ditch effort to find a local solution for the fiscal cliff. This time, it’s a 3 percent sales tax proposal.

The Pilot is not sold on this latest proposal (the details are still being hammered out), however we advise commissioners to take extreme care. The devil is in the details, and last time the board investigated the feasibility of a sales tax — just a year ago — the too-numerous-to-list exemptions, some said, were the cause of its demise. The proposal was shelved and has sat, gathering dust, until now.

The board has six business days to tweak the measure before a decision on June 26. And the ordinance is already getting a bit overwrought.

Some claim the proposed sales tax is regressive — exacting a higher percentage of lower-income folks’ income than that of the wealthier. A citizen asked why canoes, kayaks and other small watercraft would be taxed, but not their extravagant cousins such as motorboats, yachts and sailboats. The 1 percent — the wealthiest among us — are getting the benefit, and the less affluent have to pay.

The rationale, it was explained, is that people who make those large purchases might take their business elsewhere to avoid the tax. A boat vendor in Curry County would then lose a sale.

Other exemptions in the proposal include people who host periodic garage sales — but all the artisans who regularly sell their work at the farmers markets and port events would have to tack on the tax.

A homeowner building a deck would have to pay the tax for the supplies he purchases — unless he has hired a contractor to do the building. Someone buying vegetable seeds to provide food for their family is taxed, but the basil sold in the store is not.

By the way: Newspapers are exempt from collecting the tax.

There are still so many questions. And the commissioners have given themselves — and the public — very little time to tweak it before it starts the process to put it on the ballot.

Don’t overthink this. Keep it simple.

And exempt only those items that are meant for life: food, medication and medical supplies; and items the state or federal government prohibit taxing, such as food stamps, fuel and alcohol.