Opinion & Blogs » Back Page

The Duty-Free Dance

As usual, girdles, corsets and lingerie are available for Virginia's tax-free back-to-school shopping. The reasons why are baffling.



Sometimes, it feels like no one listens. Especially when it comes to Virginia’s tax-free holidays.

Why do I even bother?

No matter how many times I write about the capricious collection of items on the state-sanctioned, duty-free list, nothing ever changes.

Oh wait. Something is changing this summer.

As reported by the Virginian-Pilot’s Philip Walzer on Friday, the commonwealth will no longer hold three separate tax-free intervals beginning with the start of the new fiscal year July 1. Instead, there will be just one three-day, big, fat, cheat-the-state-out-of-a-few-bucks extravaganza.

It’s scheduled for Aug. 7-9.

Tea party types, mark your calendars.

Ever since Virginia launched its first tax-free holiday almost a decade ago, I’ve praised the principle, while lamenting the program’s lack of logic.

Take the back-to-school supply and clothing tax holiday, for example. According to the Department of Taxation’s website, computers didn’t make the tax-exempt cut. Again.

On Friday, a spokesperson told me that the General Assembly has considered 15 measures to add “computers and related equipment” to the tax-free list. All failed.

Well done, lawmakers.

Sports equipment didn’t make the tax-free list, either. So soccer moms will still have to pay sales taxes on shin pads and mouth guards.

Yet “golf clothing” is exempted.


As usual, girdles, corsets and lingerie are available for tax-free back-to-school shopping. Along with the always popular, “rubber pants.”

It’s a genuinely weird assortment of items. Almost as if it were written by Frederick’s of Hollywood execs.

Which brings us to the state’s hurricane prep list. Perhaps you heard, last week was Hurricane and Flooding Preparedness Week in Virginia. Over the weekend, storm shoppers could take advantage of the General Assembly’s tax-free generosity.

It’s nice that politicians deemed us worthy of a tax break as Virginians prepared for killer storms. Still, it’s a pity that no one in Richmond polled actual hurricane survivors to see what matters during an emergency.

There’s no shortage of experts. Thousands of folks lived like the Amish — only sweatier — after Hurricane Isabel blew through in 2003, causing property damage and power outages. Some people lasted more than a week without hot water or electricity.

The state-sanctioned hurricane list included batteries, cell phone chargers and bungee cords. Also allowed were generators — for those who don’t care about noise pollution — and chain saws.

All useful items.

Bottled water also was tax-free. Excellent. We all need to stay hydrated after a storm.

But if a Cat 4 cane is coming and I’m going to be locked inside with my family for more than a day, I need alcohol. Lots of it. Would it kill Richmond to put wine on the list? Beer? Tequila?

I once pointed out that vodka could double as an antiseptic. Did the Department of Taxation listen to me and make it one of the tax-free goodies? No, it did not. I checked.

In the absence of electricity, lots of folks are forced into involuntary family time. Why not lift the tax on board games? Decks of cards? Books?

No dice, as far as I can tell.

Beyond that, everyone knows that during a prolonged power outage, you take everything out of the freezer — except ice cream — and toss it on the backyard grill.

Yet barbecue grills aren’t tax free. Neither is charcoal or lighter fluid.

The sad truth is, the authorities don’t trust ordinary Virginians with matches. A state official once told me they want to “discourage candle use” during electrical outages.

In response to an inquiry this year, a tax spokesperson drily responded that the agency “worked closely with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management in developing the list of qualifying hurricane preparedness items and was strongly cautioned against including any items that would pose a fire hazard.”

Naturally, candles were not tax-free. Even though everyone uses them.

And toilet paper? Dare to dream. S

Kerry Dougherty is a columnist for the Virginian-Pilot.

Opinions on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Add a comment