As summer vacation season approaches, tax groups are having a difficult time planning for the holidays. I’m referring to the ever-expanding use of sales tax holidays at the state and local levels – moves that pose challenges to sales tax exemption certificate management capabilities.
I heard numerous tax leaders discuss this concern at one of the recent Vertex’s user group meetings. The issue is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep pace with the number of tax holidays and exemptions. It can also be tricky distinguishing between temporary tax holidays and permanent exemptions. Managing sales tax exemptions also remains a top challenge, especially as the number of exemption certificates a tax group needs to manage grows.
These challenges hit home for me when I read about the sales tax holidays Florida recently proposed. The legislature issued a 1,725-word press release last month to detail all of the sales tax holidays and sales tax exemptions included in a bill intended to deliver more than $1 billion in broad-based tax relief to state residents’ businesses. Guess which of the following are contained in the bill:
- A back-to-school sales tax holiday;
- A disaster preparedness sales tax holiday;
- A “freedom summer” tax holiday on recreational items;
- A skilled worker tools sales tax holiday;
- A temporary sales tax exemption on gas stoves and energy-efficient appliances; and
- A freeze on cell phone and cable-TV sales taxes.
If you answered, “all of the above,” you aced the quiz. And there’s more. This legislative proposal also would 1) create permanent sale tax exemptions for a range of goods including baby and toddler products, hygiene products, and firearm safety devices; and 2) provide property tax relief through more than a half-dozen different mechanisms.
Providing tax relief to residents and businesses is a laudable goal, and one I share. But the devil is in the details, and the growing use of sales tax holidays and exemptions often have unwelcome side effects that complicate life for corporate tax groups.
The Tax Foundation identifies and explains these shortcomings – including failing to promote sufficient economic growth, misleading consumers about savings, fostering greater tax complexity, and distracting policymakers and tax payers from more efficient tax reforms – in its most recent rundown of sales tax holidays. “Sales tax holidays neither promote economic growth nor increase purchases,” the Tax Foundation’s report concludes. “They create complexities for all involved while inserting the political process into consumer decisions. By distracting high-tax states from addressing real problems with their tax systems, holidays undermine efforts to provide legitimate relief to consumers in general and low-income individuals in particular. Sales tax holidays are not sound tax policy.” By the way, this report appeared last July, so I’m looking forward to seeing the Tax Foundation’s 2023 report on sales tax holidays this summer.
As more sales tax holidays and exemptions arise, tax groups should keep tabs on the implications of a narrowing tax base. It also may be prudent to consider an automated exemption certificate management solution to electronically store, process and manage certificates.
Please remember that the Tax Matters provides information for educational purposes, not specific tax or legal advice. Always consult a qualified tax or legal advisor before taking any action based on this information. The views and opinions expressed in Tax Matters are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position, or opinion of Vertex Inc.