Share this article

print logo

Sartorially correct; State's elimination of sales tax on clothing needs to be permanent

Once again, clothing items costing less than $110 are exempt from the state's sales tax. This time, the exemption should be made permanent and not be thrown to the deficit wolves the next time Albany faces a budget crisis.

Governors and state lawmakers have provided the exemption over the years, and taken it away. For example, clothing was exempt from the state sales tax starting in March 2000. But clothing was taxed from 2003 to 2006. Then it was taxed again in October 2010 before a phase-out began months later.

In repealing the state's 4 percent sales tax on clothing for the budget year that began Sunday, state leaders said they agreed taxpayers should not have to pony up something extra to buy a staple as basic as clothes, especially clothing for growing children. Families, they said, should be allowed to keep a little more of their much-deserved wages, just like families in other states -- Pennsylvania for example -- are allowed to do.

If those reasons are good enough to invoke the sales-tax exemption, they are good enough to continue the exemption even when state leaders struggle with balancing the budget. Further, while the state figured that a tax on clothing brought in $330 million a year, suspending the tax should not be as expensive to the state's treasury. If freed from taxes on clothing, consumers are more likely to spend their modest savings on some other taxable purchase.

Few county governments are suspending their own sales taxes when it comes to clothing. Locally, only Chautauqua County provides the break, and Erie has no intention of doing so. At this point, that makes sense. Erie County stores are benefiting from Canadians shopping here to avoid their much higher taxes, and as long as U.S. and Canadian currencies trade at or near par, the county's treasury is made that much healthier by its neighbors to the north.

However, Erie County retains the ignoble distinction of charging the state's highest sales tax, 4.75 percent on top of the state's 4 percent. Erie County leaders twice jacked up the sales tax they charge to deal with two budget crises over the decades. Predictably, they never talk about lowering the sales tax when the crisis has passed.

State leaders, in a sign of progress, have again dropped their sales tax on clothing, a sign of progress that comes, certainly by coincidence, in an election year for state lawmakers. If they are truly serious about their concern for struggling New Yorkers, they'll keep their hands off the exemption for years to come.