A sales tax on clothing

To help solve budget woes, the Legislature should consider extending the sales tax.

While University students battle the constant threat of tuition increases and the State Legislature considers controversial sources of revenue such as a state-run casino, Gov. Tim Pawlenty continues to stand by his “no new taxes” mantra.

The Legislature and Pawlenty should seriously consider extending the sales tax to clothing to help solve the state’s budget woes. Many Minnesotans oppose the idea of raising the progressive income tax but simply raising the current sales tax is regressive and unfairly “punishes” lower-income households.

But wealthier people spend more money on clothes than middle-class or low-income people; it’s the difference between shopping at Wal-Mart versus Marshall Field’s for that pair of jeans or white T-shirt. Research shows a sales tax on clothing would actually be progressive – and the vast majority of states in this country already tax clothing.

Enjoying a shopping trip without being taxed on food and clothing is a bit of a luxury for Minnesotans and for good reason. Both are clearly necessary for survival. But in the state’s current anti-income tax climate superimposed on insufficient funding for schools, public services, the environment and other programs, a progressive form of sales tax would be a fair way to help balance the state’s budget.

Some argue that a clothing sales tax will decrease revenue at tourist attractions such as the Mall of America. But many visitors to the state are unaware that clothing isn’t taxed here in the first place, and given that most other states tax clothing, it is unlikely people will stop buying expensive designer clothing because of a measly single-digit tax.

It’s been a good tax-free clothing run for Minnesota. But the price of life – and the programs and institutions on which the government spends money to improve the quality of that life – is not getting less expensive. It will be easier for consumers to swallow factoring in sales tax on clothing each time they shop than losing a larger sum of money from each paycheck. And the Legislature won’t have to compromise on the important things it is asked to support.