I've found my calling for the 2014 legislative session: a campaign to wipe toilet paper sales tax off the rolls.
My purpose is two-ply — I mean, two-fold.
1. This gives me a chance to spotlight the absurd inconsistencies of Florida's sales tax system and ask broad public policy questions about what should and shouldn't be exempt.
2. This also allows me limitless possibilities for bad puns and potty humor. Such as, "Here's a movement we can all get behind!" (Eat your heart out, Dave Barry.)
My campaign began Sunday after I wrote about how items such as truffle oil and stone crabs were exempt from sales tax but toilet paper was not. I launched a petition on change.org (you can find it at sunsentinel.com/sparethesquares). I'm happy to report 40 people have signed the petition.
Go ahead, scoff all you want (and remember, Tallahassee wasn't built — or bought — in a day). On the brighter side, I spoke to three legislators on Wednesday who were somewhat receptive to my idea. By somewhat receptive I mean they laughed a lot, like when I told them I'd consider this a fitting legacy after spending my entire career putting cr… uh, stuff, on paper.
"I appreciate what you're doing," said state Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, vice chairman of the House finance and tax subcommittee. "It's good to have these things discussed from time to time."
Florida currently has some 249 sales tax exemptions on the books, from the logical (most groceries and medicines) to the ridiculous (space vehicles and gold bullion worth more than $500). Potato chips and large containers of ice cream are exempt. Fancy cheeses and other delicacies are exempt. But basic hygiene products — like toilet paper, toothpaste and tampons — remain taxed.
This seems grossly unfair, and against the spirit of the original grocery and medicine exemption granted by the Legislature in 1949, just after sales tax was enacted. Last year, Florida collected more than $21 billion in sales tax and exempted $11 billion worth of goods.
With the state looking at a $1 billion surplus for the upcoming budget year and Gov. Scott seeking input on ways to return money to Florida taxpayers, I figure this is a perfect time for the toilet paper exemption. It wouldn't be some special-interest tax break that favors the wealthy, or big business. But it wouldn't leave them out, either. I mean, everyone uses toilet paper. I hope.
It's plain common sense, right?
"We have a saying in the Legislature: Common sense has no lobbyist," said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee.
I got in touch with Vasilinda after discovering she filed a bill (HB217) that seeks to "streamline" sales and use tax. Moraitis and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, are co-sponsors. The bill's main purpose is to collect sales tax from Internet and out-of-state retailers that have no physical presence in Florida. But the 157-page bill also has sweeping language changes that would end up adding exemptions (for items like sandwiches, milk-based drinks and gum). Vasilinda said she wasn't aware of those changes, and her intent "was to follow the current exemptions already in place."
So how about a sentence exempting toilet paper?
She said she'd add toilet paper if I supported her efforts at taxing out-of-state retailers.
Now that's a deal I can get behind. Let's see what unfolds.