Last year, Representative Susan Duckworth (Democrat – Salt Lake City) introduced a piece of legislation that has been gaining momentum across the country – repeal of the so-called “tampon tax.”
[pullquote]Duckworth’s legislation would cost the state $1.7 million annually in sales taxes – approximately 0.001 percent of the state’s total sales tax revenue. And in a state that claims to value the family, smaller government, and low taxes, the only reasonable assumption should be that this bill pass.[/pullquote]But this term doesn’t do Duckworth’s legislation justice. Last year, and again this year with HB 71 – Hygiene Tax Act, Duckworth is attempting to pass legislation that would remove the sales tax on not only feminine hygiene products but also the tax on disposable diapers for adults and children alike. The Salt Lake lawmaker noted that seniors and those suffering from medical procedures who may need to use adult disposables often subsist on fixed incomes and that Utah has the highest birthrate in the nation means that several families are directly affected by this tax. In all, Duckworth stated in the Revenue and Taxation Committee last year that a tax exemption would save those with incontinence on average $82 a year, families with young children $50 a year, and women in general who need feminine hygiene products $1,800 over a woman’s lifetime – with all of this money going back into the Utah economy.
Duckworth noted that, unlike razors and other male hygiene products, women and those in need of incontinence products don’t have the option to “opt out” of these products and that serious health concerns can arise from the failure to use these products when necessary – adding that basic hygiene is a right.
The all-male committee promptly shot the legislation down by a vote of 8-3.
Committee chair, Representative Dan McCay (Republican – Riverton) would note that the Revenue and Taxation committee had spent years trying to remove special exemptions to the tax code, and signaled that he was not eager to go back down the same road; similarly, Representative Ken Ivory (Republican – West Jordan) wanted to make sure that if the state is going to go down the path of specialized tax exemptions, that the state set up parameters around when it is justified to make such changes. Representative Doug Sagers (Republican – Tooele), meanwhile, was concerned about the one-time burden that stores would face having to reprogram systems to ensure that the tax was not incorrectly applied – an issue that occurred after Utah changed it’s tax code regarding food. The committee’s two Democrats were the only lawmakers to speak in favor of the legislation, with Representative Joel Briscoe (Salt Lake City) emphasizing the fact that these are not optional items while Representative Brian King (Salt Lake City) also noted that (and as the name implies) the feminine hygiene portion of the tax has a disproportionate impact on women.
It is fair for Ivory to ask when a tax exemption is to be warranted, but as a general philosophy, the statement “the product fulfills a fundamental human need” seems like a sound starting point. It is this same logic that caused lawmakers to agree to a reduction in the raw food tax (with some proposing a full exemption) – the only reason a full exemption did not take place was due to the massive reduction in the state budget that would have resulted. But to that end, Duckworth’s legislation would cost the state $1.7 million annually in sales taxes – approximately 0.001 percent of the state’s total sales tax revenue; in short, its effects on the bottom line would be nominal.
Sagers’ argument that the legislation would make things temporarily more difficult for businesses is an interesting one, if only because he seems to be implying that the one time cost to companies is at a higher value than the day-to-day needs of Utah families, women, and those suffering from medical conditions. Though the state may want to consider assisting smaller stores during such a transition, and that that there is a valid argument as to not constantly changing the tax code on whims, the simple fact is that change in food tax policy featured far more minutia on what is and is not covered under the food tax when compared to Duckworth’s bill.
Finally, the general argument that Duckworth alluded to regarding the need to extend tax exemptions to things like razors is trite at best. Not only do taxes on razors affect everyone roughly equally, but this argument generally does not originate from a place of true intellectual curiosity, but rather from the false victimization of those who never had to consider the wellbeing of those who have previously been held at a disadvantage by those who previously made such decisions.
Duckworth’s legislation is reasonable, has an imperceptibly small impact on the budget, and would help families, women, and those suffering from illness with a little bit more breathing room. And in a state that claims to value the family, smaller government, and low taxes, the only reasonable assumption should be that this bill pass. Of course, we are less than optimistic that it actually will.
To contact Representative Duckworth, click here or call 801-250-0728 (Home)
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