BY JENNIFER FERRIS
Thinking I was clever, I saved back-to-school shopping until Sunday morning of this year’s Tax Holiday– despite pleas from my children to load up on Number 2 Pencils and graph paper the moment they hit the shelves in June. I was tempted many times by deep discounts on Crayola and packing pallets full of pink gum erasers, but I stood firm. For I knew there was a promised land of affordable shoes and stationary deals as far as the eye could see. Sales. Tax. Holiday.
Many states give consumers annual tax breaks on clothing, electronics, shoes, and paper goods. In North Carolina, that break traditionally takes place the first weekend in August. Parents love low prices, and store owners draw in mobs of customers that is only rivaled by Black Friday. But starting next year, North Carolina is skipping the tax holiday, leaving local parents holding a bill for $12 million more.
As I elbowed my way through Target’s back-to-school section, I wasn’t mourning the loss of our sales tax holiday. I was more worried about whether I’d be able to extract the Angry Birds backpack from the clutches of my 4-year-old. But as I threw items into my cart, I realized that knowing my purchases would be tax free made the process a lot more comfortable.
Families with school-age children, on average, spend more than $600 every year on back-to-school items. This includes shoes, clothing, computers, calculators, paper goods, and art supplies. Like me, many parents wait until the tax free weekend, hoping to benefit not only from the tax savings, but also from discounts and sales timed to coincide with the tax holiday.
Representatives from the National Retail Federation say that next year they expect North Carolinians to travel over state borders to shop tax holidays in other states. I’m glad folks in near the South Carolina or Virginia borders will have an opportunity to take advantage of these discounts– but what about families in the center of the state, or those who reply on public transportation?
In North Carolina, more than 40% of children belong to single-parent households. And those households are overwhelmingly headed by low-income women. According to the Pew Research Center, single moms make an average of$400 per week. Shifting the sales tax burden for this one weekend a year from the state to the family unduly penalizes women who will be spending nearly half their monthly income outfitting their kids for school.
Those who passed the bill ending tax-free weekend say that the state loses $12.6 million in revenue during the holiday. They claim that tax relief in other areas will help lighten families’ increasingly heavy loads. As the tax reform bill has not yet been implemented fully, this remains to be seen. Although families are only expected to spend $50 more next year when paying sales tax, for some that might be the straw that will break the camel’s back.