Friday, December 06, 2013

The Christmas Tree tax is back

The House version of the
Farm Bill would lift the
stay on the Christmas Tree tax.
Yes, just in time for the holiday, the Christmas Tree tax is making a comeback.

In 2011, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a Christmas tree promotion program. They didn't call it a tax, but that's what it was. It set up a Christmas Tree Promotion Board (because clearly Christmas trees aren't popular enough and need to be promoted) and funded the operations with a 15-cent tax on every Christmas tree sold.

Now, they said the tree growers would pay the tax, but the reality was that the tax would be passed along to the buyer. And this was all “to enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States.”

Fortunately, public outrage resulted in a stay on the proposed rule.

But the tax has been resurrected in the latest House version of the Farm Bill. Under their version, the stay would be lifted so the tax could be imposed and the Christmas Tree Promotion Board could be formed.

The Senate version of the Farm bill does not include this provision. Both bodies are supposed to meet soon to work out the differences. Don't forget, the Farm Bill is really a Food Stamp Bill, because that's where a significant amount of funding in the legislation actually goes.

Two years ago I shared a summary of Ilya Shapiro's "The Christmas Tree Tax Is a Microcosm of What's Wrong with Constitutional Law" because it asked so many good questions about these types of forced promotions that are supposed to be for the good of those being forced. The questions are even more relevant today:

* Are Free Exercise and Equal Protections issues present with this tax? Christmas trees really aren't secular; for most people, they're an expression of their Christian faith and a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Does this tax the free exercise of Christianity since no other religions have such trees?

* Does the Constitution give the federal government the authority to tax the sale of a local agricultural products? Unless the trees are being trucked across state lines (and many are not), there is no interstate commerce. And since it is a tax (which USDA denied), it must be an excise, which is allowed in the Constitution.

The courts have said an excise tax is on transactions or privileges. How does this tax promote the general welfare or common defense - the only legitimate purposes of excise taxes? Is Congress really saying that an excise tax to "enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States" is really part of the common defense or necessary to the 'general welfare' of the nation?

* Even if the tax is lawful, should it be imposed by a governmental agency? Shouldn't it be imposed by Congress? Removing a stay on the tax imposed by an agency without an act of Congress doesn't really count as passing a tax, does it?

And I have some questions of my own:

* If there is a *need* for a Christmas Tree Promotion Board, isn't there an association or group that can create it and manage it - maybe with dues from members who have voluntarily joined together to do so? Why does the federal government need to do this instead of the people who are directly going to benefit from the promotion: the tree growers themselves?

* Is it maybe because *some* growers want this and others don't that *some* are using the power of government to force the others to do something the *some* believes is good for them? Isn't that quite arrogant? And if government force is so necessary to actually creating and funding the board, how much demand could there be for it in the first place?

* Do Christmas Trees really have such a bad reputation that their image needs to be enhanced? Who actually comes up with these premises and when it was first suggested did anyone with common sense express disbelief?

* How much time, effort and taxpayer money has been spent on this single bad idea? Doesn't the USDA have more important things to do than create a tax to fund a board that doesn't have enough support within the industry to be created?

Sometimes, I just can't believe how ridiculous some of these things are.

(H/T The Heritage Foundation)

No comments:

Google Analytics Alternative