Retailers in Florida hope virtual school platforms inspire more to buy computers.
by: Jim Turner and Tom Urban
The News Service of Florida
Retailers reeling from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic hope Floridians will indulge in a chance to save some money this weekend as students prepare for the new school year, whether it be in traditional classrooms or online.
The state will hold a sales-tax “holiday” from Friday through Sunday, Aug. 7-9, allowing back-to-school shoppers to avoid paying sales taxes on clothes costing $60 or less and school supplies costing $15 or less.
A third part of the holiday — no sales taxes on the first $1,000 of the cost of personal computers and some related accessories — has been drawing attention as school districts debate when and how students will begin classes.
Many children are expected to start the school year taking classes online because of concerns about the spread of the virus, likely spurring some families to look for computer equipment.
Best Buy and Walmart have taken notice, running online ads that banner the state’s tax-holiday period above computer discounts. State lawmakers included the tax break for computer equipment in a bill passed in March that also included the breaks for clothes and school supplies.
“I don’t think the Legislature knew at the time that it was going to be as big of a deal as it is, but it’s definitely going to help a lot of families,” Florida Retail Federation President Scott Shalley said.
Shalley said jobs are also at stake as the retail industry has been hit hard by the economic fallout from COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, some of the enthusiasm has been drained out as a result of COVID,” Shalley said. “But kids are getting ready, and the holiday provides a nice break when most Floridians could use a break right now.”
The back-to-school holiday and similar tax breaks offered around the June 1 start of hurricane season for disaster-preparation items were part of a scaled-back tax package that lawmakers passed during this year’s legislative session.
Initially, lawmakers proposed more than $100 million in tax cuts, discounts and other changes, including cuts to a commercial lease tax and the communications services tax on cell phones and cable television.
The back-to-school tax holiday is expected to account for about $41.8 million of the savings included in the $47.7 million tax-reduction package. The holiday is forecast to cut state revenue by $32.3 million and local government revenue by $9.5 million.
Not everyone, however, is so enthusiastic about the holiday.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, considers sales tax holidays “outdated gimmicks” that “provide dubious and poorly targeted benefits.”
Dylan Grundman, the institute’s senior state policy analyst, said holidays reduce revenue for state and local priorities like schools and health care and typically are more of a benefit to more affluent individuals.
"Wealthier taxpayers are often best positioned to benefit from the holidays since they have more flexibility to shift the timing of their purchases to take advantage of the tax break, an option that isn’t available for families living paycheck to paycheck,” Grundman said in a statement.
With the pandemic, wealthier taxpayers are also more likely to be able to shop online, setting up orders for curbside and home delivery.
"Lower-income households, on the other hand, may lack these conveniences and be forced to choose between keeping their families safe or going into a crowded store during peak hours to take advantage of the discount,” Grundman wrote.