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Lawmakers lament school supply tax holiday absence

Mississippi’s Sales Tax Holiday will beheld this year from July 29 to July 30, and despite legislativeefforts, school supplies are still absent from the exemptionlist.

    During the holiday, the state’s 7 percent sales tax will not becharged to articles of clothing and footwear priced below $100.There is no limit on the number of qualifying items that can bepurchased.

    A list of exempt items can be found on the state’s Department ofRevenue’s website, http://www.dor.ms.gov/.

    Since the inauguration of the tax-free holiday, it has beenaccepted as a back-to-school event among parents. It istraditionally held the last weekend in July, days before schoolsgear up around the state.

    Because of this, a popular mindset among citizens and somelawmakers is to include school supplies as a part of the taxexemption weekend.

    An amendment pushed for this year would have included schoolsupplies in the exemption. However, District 95 Rep. JessicaUpshaw’s bill died in committee shortly after the 2011 legislationsession began in January.

    Upshaw, R-Diamondhead, said she authored that legislation in orderto be the voice of her constituents in Hancock and Harrisoncounties.

    “People from my area said that they would benefit from certainthings being exempt in the school supplies category,” Upshaw said.”There lies a burden at this time, especially on people who haveseveral children getting ready to start school. It would just makethings easier on parents.”

    District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, conveyed the samenecessity to help prepare families for school in any waypossible.

    “Once again we’re 50th in the nation in education,” she said. “Ifthis could help kids get ready to learn, then it’s something weneed to do.”

    Upshaw said tax credits created for specific purchases allowconsumers to spend more in other categories that are not includedunder the exemptions.

    “And that really benefits the businesses as well as customers, andhelps the economy in a great way,” Upshaw said.

    Currie expressed similar sentiments.

    “It actually increases revenue,” Currie said. “When you’re in thestore, you can put money you save from sales tax toward somethingelse you might need. I don’t believe there’s any losers in it.”

    Brookhaven mayor Les Bumgarner agreed that school supplies shouldbe added to the list of exempt items.

    “Adding school supplies to the legislation would be a big plus tocitizens,” Bumgarner said.

    Surrounding states have expanded on the clothing and shoes onlynotion that Mississippi has resisted.

    In Alabama, customers can purchase certain school supplies,computers and books without paying state sales tax on itsholiday.

    Customers in Louisiana are not required to pay state sales tax onthe first $2,500 of any item that is intended for non-business useand is not a vehicle or food.

    On Arkansas’ inaugural tax holiday, customers can buy books, schoolsupplies and school art supplies with no added sales tax. It willbe held in August.

    “One of the things we have to do is look at what other states aredoing,” Upshaw said. “People could easily arrange a special trip toa neighboring state to get their school supplies. And ourbusinesses here lose a lot of money that way.”

    District 25 Sen. Walter Michel, R-Jackson, agreed. However, he alsoraised the point that Mississippi’s tax holiday is the last weekendof July, which might entice people from neighboring states to cometake advantage of the Mississippi tax exemption.

    “The other states don’t have their holidays until the first week ofAugust,” Michel said. “That can motivate them to come here to getsome of their back-to-school shopping started a week earlier.”

    As for expanding the list of sales tax exempted items, Michelindicated some work remains to be done.

    “It took me 10 years to be able to get a pair of shoes priced belowa hundred dollars eligible for tax exemption. It’s a work inprogress getting other items on there,” Michel said. “But clothesand shoes are something, a start. I guess you have to walk beforeyou can run.”