Shoppers may not get full benefit of August sales tax holiday

Alicia Holton should be in a unique position with the reintroduction of Georgia’s sales tax holiday, which has been dormant since 2009.

Not only is Holton a mother of four children in the Houston County school system, but she also owns Teacher’s Nest, an educational supply store in Perry.

Holton, however, thinks the timing of the tax holiday this year -- from 12:01 a.m. Aug. 10 to midnight on Aug. 11 -- won’t be particularly beneficial to her as a parent or business owner, because Houston County students return to school Aug. 1.

“I don’t think it will do a whole lot of good,” she said. “I know my kids have already gotten everything, and the teachers are already setting up their classrooms. ... This is our busy season with teachers right now.”

Georgia last held a tax holiday for back-to-school materials from July 31 to Aug. 3 in 2009, before many of the school districts in the state began their academic years.

The holiday covers items of clothing each under $100; electronic items, such as computers and accessories; and general school supplies under $20.

Bibb County schools begin Aug. 13 this year, which won’t give many parents time to take advantage of the tax break.

State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, said the tax holiday was held in July when Democrats controlled the Legislature.

“I guess the administration wasn’t thinking about it that deeply,” she said, adding that it’s not just parents and teachers who will have trouble taking advantage of the tax break. “There are a lot of school supplies drives, and they won’t be able to get the benefit (of the tax holiday) either.”

But Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Macon, said that with many Georgia school districts starting at different times, there’s no perfect date for the tax holiday.

“I’m not on that committee (Ways & Means), so I can’t say for certain, but (the Aug. 10-11 date) was probably just a compromise,” he said, noting that Peach County schools don’t start until September. “Every school system district is different. ... I hope (the state) used a quantitative reason to put it (on those dates). ... But it’s another tax break we try to give to people who can really use it.”

The Legislature failed to approve the tax holiday in 2010 and 2011, because the state estimated it lost roughly $30 million in uncollected taxes each year.

Rick McAllister, president of the Georgia Retail Association, said the state doesn’t consider the increase of overall sales or other factors when it makes its estimation using a static scoring system.

“Historically, we’ve seen an increase in sales of items that (aren’t part of the tax holiday),” he said. “It ends up being pretty close to break-even. Based on our research, families go out and buy back-to-school items that they don’t get a tax break for.”

McAllister said even if a district is already in session before the tax holiday, Georgians can still benefit in their wallets if they take advantage of it by buying clothes or electronics.

“It’s win-win-win for everyone,” he said, saying families can save an average of 6 to 8 percent. “I know it’s a great thing for Georgia’s families. It’s a small tax break. If you’re a family with a couple of children, it’s a big help. It’s a win for families, it’s a win for the state of Georgia, and it’s a win for retailers.”

Holton said she may take advantage of the holiday if she needs to make last-minute purchases, but said she plans to have the majority of her shopping done by next week.

“They need to move it (earlier),” she said. “It’s just too stressful to get all the things you need the weekend before school starts.”