Floridians get chance to buy computers tax-free

Floridians will get to purchase computers tax-free along with clothes during sales tax holiday

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida's traditional back-to-school tax holiday is getting a high-tech twist this year.

For the first time, Floridians will be able to buy computers, tablets and even some types of software tax-free.

The tax-free period starts at 12:01 a.m. on Friday and will last for three days. Florida's sales tax is 6 cents on the dollar.

The state created the first back-to-school tax holiday in 1998 and over the years legislators have tinkered with it. They have added school supplies to the list while also adding, then taking away, books. Legislators have also shifted the dates and the length of the tax holiday.

This year's tax holiday includes clothing and backpacks worth $75 or less, school supplies worth $15 or less and computers and computer-related equipment worth up to $750. The tax-free holiday does not apply to cellphones or smartphones, but it does apply to keyboards, monitors and wireless routers.

Florida is following the lead of other states that have given tax breaks on computers.

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne and chairman of the House Finance and Tax subcommittee, said it make sense to add computers to the list of items as their role increases in schools. Florida, for example, requires high school students to take at least one class online.

"If we can help a couple of families get inexpensive computers in their home, if we can encourage them to do that, then it's worth it," said Workman, who said he has two children enrolled in public schools.

The $750 price limit does mean that some types of computers — such as iMacs and Macbooks made by Apple — would not qualify for the tax break.

That has hasn't stopped the popular retailer, however, from sending out emails to Floridians reminding them that they can go to Apple stores or go online to purchase some Apple products tax-free. The tax break, for example, would apply to tablets such as the iPad.

Workman said the decision on the price limit for the tax break was dependent on how much money the state could afford to set aside for the tax holiday. It is projected to save taxpayers an estimated $35 million in both state and local sales taxes.

"I'm not writing a bill to give one company an advantage," he said. "If that private company that sells computers want to take advantage of it they will come up with a lower price. I'm not getting into what brand name sells what or how much."

Retailers remain upbeat about this year's tax holiday. A spokesman for Best Buy said some stores in Florida plan to offer longer hours and have even beefed up staffing.

Rick McAllister, president of the Florida Retail Federation, maintains that the tax holiday will create a stimulus for retailers resulting in as much as $400 million in sales.

The tax holidays, however, do have their critics. The Tax Foundation, a national research group, contends they are "political gimmicks."

"If a state has to offer a 'holiday' from its tax system, it's a sign that there's a problem with the system itself," said Tax Foundation Vice President for Legal & State Projects Joseph Henchman earlier this month. "If politicians want to save money for consumers, then they should cut the sales tax rate year-round."

Workman said he is interested in finding out how much interest the tax break on computers generates versus the more traditional tax break on clothes and school supplies. He said the last thing he wants is to have "90 percent" of the tax break be used to purchase computers.

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