The tax-free weekend is a scam 

A Hard Lesson

The first weekend in August is now South Carolina's most celebrated unofficial holiday. It's bigger than the anniversary of the state's founding, secession from the Union, or reintroduction to the United States of America: it's the annual sales-tax holiday for back-to-school shopping.

For the last week or two, some pieces in local media highlighted the best deals for back-to-school specials in a sort of ad-hoc advertisement for the national retail establishment while other pieces poked a little bit of light fun at the odd items included in what is supposed to be a back-to-school shopping weekend. The City Paper is among those that have.

The problem, as usual, is that the underlying concerns about tax holidays and how they really affect the state is largely unreported. No one, it seems, reports on how much revenue the state loses during these holidays, nor are they willing to ask if tax holidays — and not just this weekend but the extended holidays given to multinational corporations — are part of the reason the state's budget is so "tight."

Buying children new clothes for school — as if their clothes reach an expiration date some time around the beginning of school each year — is a time-honored tradition. So is the annual trek for pencils, paper, and other basics. But that list of basics includes items that seem strange for the children (and their parents) to be asked to bring in on the first day of school. Taken from a Charleston County school website, these items include: dry erase markers and erasers, bottles of hand sanitizer, tissues, paper towels, and other items that seem aimed more for the classroom as a whole than for an individual child. Again, local media helpfully point parents not only to these lists but also to where they can find the best deals.

It may seem odd that someone arguing for communities to give more money to schools for school supplies would also argue against people buying communal supplies for their children's classrooms. However, it's not odd at all. I'm merely wondering why certain communal items are not being bought and paid for by the tax-paying community at large instead of by individual moms and dads (or, increasingly, by the teachers themselves).

After all, a functional and well-supplied school system benefits the entire population in much the same way a well-maintained road system does. Yet we essentially ask parents to pay extra — and disguise it with a ballyhooed sales tax "holiday" — for what everyone eventually benefits from. It's the old "skin in the game" chestnut, repeated most often by those who repeatedly act in their own best interests by keeping their own skin safely protected.

What's worse is that this "holiday" also disguises spending by people who are not buying for their children, or may not even have children at all, but who are essentially off-loading their own tax burden on to others so they can save six percent on items such as ski suits and tuxedos, two luxury items that have no place on the list in the first place.

The lifting of the state's six percent sales tax, ostensibly in the name of helping parents purchase needed school supplies for children about to return to (or begin) school this fall obviously creates a shopping bonanza, although it is one that helps create the very need for itself by transferring the burden of public education from the community to the parents of children. The beneficiaries of this, naturally, are businesses seeing an uptick in sales and people who do not want to pay taxes in the first place, many of whom will go out to take advantage of the sudden savings on new computers, smartphones, and other items that fall under the "educational" umbrella, including, oddly enough, umbrellas. (Who knew the umbrella lobby would be so strong in South Carolina?)

If South Carolina's leaders insist on continuing to shove the financial burden of education onto only those people who use it — in clear contradiction of the commonly understood nature of public services and in clear service to the selfish people who don't like to pay taxes — then perhaps it should take a cue from those same "conservatives" who wish to fingerprint and drug test recipients of social welfare programs. Maybe we should ask that next year, the tax holiday be reserved only for people who can prove they are parents of children in a South Carolina public school system. After all, wouldn't that be "fair"?


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