Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Santa Tax Next?

This from "The Foundry":

President Obama’s Agriculture Department today announced that it will impose a new 15-cent charge on all fresh Christmas trees—the Christmas Tree Tax—to support a new Federal program to improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees.
In the Federal Register of November 8, 2011, Acting Administrator of Agricultural Marketing David R. Shipman announced that the Secretary of Agriculture will appoint a Christmas Tree Promotion Board. The purpose of the Board is to run a “program of promotion, research, evaluation, and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry’s position in the marketplace; maintain and expend existing markets for Christmas trees; and to carry out programs, plans, and projects designed to provide maximum benefits to the Christmas tree industry” (7 CFR 1214.46(n)). And the program of “information” is to include efforts to “enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States” (7 CFR 1214.10).
To pay for the new Federal Christmas tree image improvement and marketing program, the Department of Agriculture imposed a 15-cent fee on all sales of fresh Christmas trees by sellers of more than 500 trees per year (7 CFR 1214.52). And, of course, the Christmas tree sellers are free to pass along the 15-cent Federal fee to consumers who buy their Christmas trees.
Acting Administrator Shipman had the temerity to say the 15-cent mandatory Christmas tree fee “is not a tax nor does it yield revenue for the Federal government” (76 CFR 69102). The Federal government mandates that the Christmas tree sellers pay the 15-cents per tree, whether they want to or not. The Federal government directs that the revenue generated by the 15-cent fee goes to the Board appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to carry out the Christmas tree program established by the Secretary of Agriculture. Mr. President, that’s a new 15-cent tax to pay for a Federal program to improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees.
Nobody is saying President Obama doesn’t have authority to impose his new Christmas Tree Tax — his Administration cites the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996. Just because the Obama Administration has the legal power to impose its Christmas Tree Tax doesn’t mean it should do so.
The economy is barely growing and nine percent of the American people have no jobs. Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do?
And, by the way, the American Christmas tree has a great image that doesn’t need any help from the government.

"The Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996." Well, well, well. Seems to me that if one person or a group of people have a commodity that needs research, promotion or information, maybe they should just hire somebody to do it for them. And pay for it themselves. Certainly a fifteen cent tax on a Christmas tree isn't going to put the hurt on the holiday season for anyone but why should a small segment of the US agricultural complex be subsidized by the taxpayers?

Further information:

Artificial War On Christmas Campaign Launches Fake Obama "Christmas Tree Tax"
November 09, 2011 12:38 am ET - by Jeremy Holden

Right-wing media figures are accusing the Obama administration of seeking to impose a tax on Christmas trees; but the Christmas tree industry has been working since 2008 -- before President Obama was elected -- to partner with the Department of Agriculture and establish a marketing campaign funded by tree growers in order to promote the sale of fresh Christmas trees.

On November 8, the Federal Register published a rule establishing a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture "to strengthen the position of fresh cut Christmas trees in the marketplace and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees within the United States":

USDA received a proposal for a national research and promotion program for Christmas trees from the Christmas Tree Checkoff Task Force (Task Force). The program will be financed by an assessment on Christmas trees domestic producers and importers and would be administered by a board of industry members selected by the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretary). The initial assessment rate will be $0.15 per Christmas tree domestically produced or imported into the United States and could be increased up to $0.20 per Christmas tree. The purpose of the program will be to strengthen the position of fresh cut Christmas trees in the marketplace and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees within the United States.

The Task Force proposed that a referendum be held among domestic producers and importers three years after the first assessments begin to determine whether they favor continuation of the program.
Led by the Drudge Report and Fox Nation, right-wing media figures immediately leaped on the rule, calling it President Obama's "Christmas tree tax":

Gateway Pundit blogger Jim Hoft said the "Christmas Tree Tax" illustrated that "Barack Obama hates Christians."

Far from a tax initiated by the Obama administration, the proposal to create an assessment on tree growers to fund a research and promotion program through the USDA was begun by the industry during the Bush administration.

In February 2008, faced with declining sales, members of the National Christmas Tree Association created a task force to consider the merits of a checkoff program, which would allow the USDA to collect a fee from growers in order to fund research into marketing Christmas trees. NCTA officials explained:

While the fake tree industry is investing dollars to vigorously promote their product, the Real Tree industry is pulling back and devoting fewer funds to public relations and marketing. More than 1,000 people donated more than $900,000 for 2004 promotion and marketing programs. By 2007, donations to the market expansion activities had dropped to about $400,000. The erosion of funding resulted in fewer projects aimed at positively impacting consumer attitudes about Real Trees limiting the ability of the industry to affect the sales of Real Trees in the marketplace.

Given this continued erosion of the market share of farm-grown Christmas Trees, an industry task force is being formed to study the possibility of a federal marketing order that could establish a nationwide checkoff designed to support expanded promotion, marketing and research projects.

The NCTA Board of Directors supports the industry task force study of a federal marketing order.

Even if the industry decides to pursue a nationwide checkoff, it takes at least a year for USDA to follow its "rule making procedures." Thus, it is highly unlikely that a checkoff could start before 2010. In the interim, NCTA will engage in an aggressive promotion and protection program as funds allow.

The NCTA board urges members and non-members to be involved in the discussion and will schedule a town hall discussion at the 2008 national convention at which time the task force will give a report.
In April 2008, NCTA officials announced the formation of a task force to continue studying the merits of a checkoff program. As explained in the Fall 2008 edition of Christmas Trees, a leading Christmas tree magazine, fee levels are established by industry -- not government -- and commodity growers frequently partner with the USDA for marketing and research checkoffs:

Examples of other agricultural commodity Checkoffs include the egg, beef, pork, mushroom, milk, and honey, etc. industries. We're all familiar with the Dairy industry's ad campaigns; "Milk Does a Body Good" and "Got Milk." "Pork: the Other White Meat," "Beef: It's What's for Dinner" and "The Incredible Edible Egg" are recognizable slogans developed and funded by Checkoff programs. These four 'big guns' collect between $45 and $91.2 million in assessments annually.

Funding for promotions and research comes from within each industry. Fees could be assessed for example, in the Christmas tree industry, on a percentage of the selling price, per cut tree or per seedling basis. The amount of the assessment, who would participate, how the fees would be collected and how utilized, would be determined by the industry taskforce with the input of growers and attendees at the National Convention. Fresh imports (mainly from Canada) would be assessed at a comparable rate. As in other agricultural industries there would be exemptions for smaller growers. If the assessment is made on a cut tree basis, 4,000 trees has been discussed as a minimum. A percentage of the amount collected could go to state associations in proportion to the amount paid from within that state. The state association could utilize the funds for promotion and research abiding by the same rules as the national Checkoff organization. Hugh anticipates that Christmas tree assessments would be comparable to the amount raised by the blueberry industry, which is $2 million.

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