Editorial: Consider expanding tax break for school supplies, too

It may be unseemly, when given a gift, to ask for more. But for struggling families, it would be nice to get more with regard to the Maryland's August gift to shoppers — a week to buy clothing without sales tax.

Maryland Tax Free Week ended Aug. 18. During this week, shoppers didn't have to pay the state's 6 percent sales tax when purchasing clothing and shoes priced under $100.

The scheduling of the week in August is not random. The tax break is geared to coincide withback-to-schoolshopping, the most important sales season for retailers except for Christmas.

In Maryland, one of 18 states offering tax-free shopping periods, retailers report that the tax-free benefit has boosted sales 8 to 12 percent in the past two years.

But why is it limited only to clothing?

For parents, outfitting their children to return to the classroom usually means more than clothes. Students also need — in some cases, are required to have — an array of supplies, from notebooks to backpacks.

According to the National Retail Federation, people buying items for children from kindergarten to grade 12 spend an average of $688 during theback-to-school season.

Of that amount, about half goes to shoes and clothes.

Some other states tailor theirback-to-schooltax relief accordingly. Some states give breaks on school supplies and backpacks; some even offer sales tax abatement for certain computers.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot recently expressed some hope that Maryland's program could be expanded down the road. In a Baltimore Sun story, he was quoted as saying the state's effort is "too narrow right now."

Franchot said the state forgoes about $10 million as a result of the weeklong tax revenue drought. But he said he believes the boost it gives retailers is worth it.

We would tend to agree, and suggest that legislators study some of the other states that offer tax breaks for school supplies as well as clothing.

There would be a revenue impact, to be sure, but it would also give Maryland's Tax Free Week a trueback-to-schoolfocus.

Interestingly, last year the state put out a video in which Gov.Martin O'Malleysaid the tax-break week is "a great way to save money on all those back-to-school supplies."

"All"? Not yet. But perhaps the governor and General Assembly will act to make it so.

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