Tax-free weekend a welcome break for family budget

August 9, 2012 

School days are back. So is Georgia's sales tax "holiday," and families can take advantage of substantial savings today and Saturday on school supplies, computer equipment and clothing.

The tax-free weekend has become a popular tradition on both sides of the Chattahoochee. But Georgia's recession-battered budget couldn't take the annual $12 million hit in sales tax revenues, and the state suspended the practice after 2009.

Gov. Nathan Deal has reinstated the sales tax holiday for this year and next. A state Department of Revenue spokesman didn't put a number on this year's cost when asked by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but Rep. Debbie Buckner, D- Junction City, recently told a Columbus TV station that it would be about $13 million.

It's a trade-off: The state loses revenue in a still-struggling economy, but consumers stand to get needed relief for family budgets. Many of those families, in border communities like Columbus, will come from across state lines to take advantage of the savings and put more money into Georgia's economy.

The state sales tax moratorium that began just after midnight this morning exempts specific electronic purchases, including computers, modems and scanners, if the total sale is $1,000 or less. Clothing and shoes that cost less than $100 per item are also exempt, as are school supplies that cost less than $20 each (the complete list can be found online at bit.ly/MrNd5M).

Important detail: Purchases that exceed the specified limits will be subject to sales tax not just on the overage, but on the entire purchase. So $1,150 worth of computer equipment in a single purchase is subject to state sales tax on $1,150, not $150.

The return of the tax-free weekend is a welcome break for consumers, especially those shopping for basic educational and family necessities.

Looking ahead …

One little-discussed (so far) item on Georgia's November ballot is a proposed amendment giving the state authority to create and fund charter schools.

Advocates say charters encourage innovation and creativity on the part of educators and students alike. Opponents say charters are in essence private schools funded with public money siphoned from already strapped school budgets.

This newspaper is on record as supporting the concept of charter schools. This vote isn't about whether such schools should exist, but under whose authority. Local school boards have been seen (sometimes rightly) as turf- and power-defending obstacles to the creation of charter schools. Giving state government that power would have significant educational, budgetary and constitutional implications.

It's a question that begs for serious thought by thoughtful people.

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