Gather 'round, kiddies. It's time to hear the Great Christmas Tree Tax Tale of 2011, a new and short-lived holiday classic.
It's a not-so-heartwarming tax story that, in true American fashion, is dramatically overblown and got us thinking about Christmas before our next regularly scheduled holiday of Thanksgiving.
Once upon a time (actually in 2009) the National Christmas Tree Association asked Uncle Sam for help in getting more people to buy real trees to decorate. The tree people were tired of watching sales of its product fall while more Americans bought artificial trees.
The professional holiday tree organization decided a Christmas Tree Promotion Board, like the ones used by the milk producers (Got Milk?) and beef council (It's What's for Dinner) and 16 other commodity groups have, would be a good idea.
Uncle Sam agreed and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is authorized to appoint such panels, issued a formal announcement.
Then the fun began, kids. The Federal Register announcement included that most horrible of words: assessment rate. Specifically, in order to pay for the Christmas tree panel's efforts to encourage more purchases of holiday trees, growers of said trees would pony up 15 cents per tree sold.
Soon word spread of the charge, which immediately was mischaracterized as a tax. Oh my, fretted anti-tax groups, Christmas is being taxed!
The Obama administration was called all sorts of unkind things, such as Scrooge and Grinch and taxer (no, that's not one of Santa's backup reindeer). And less than a day later, the outrage prompted the president to put the Christmas tree board and the tree fee on hold.
Here, youngsters, are the facts.
The fee is not a tax. It's a charge that would be paid by the members of an industry to fund a specific program to promote that industry. It would not be collected by the Internal Revenue Service nor would it be specifically tacked onto the price that consumers pay when they buy Christmas trees from the lots that will spring up nationwide in a few weeks.
But in our current polarized ideological world, everything, including Christmas, is easy fodder for extremists looking to make some partisan political hay -- and I'm not talking the stuff that the animals in a nativity scene would eat.
And here, kiddies, is the moral of our holiday tax tale.
In tough economic times when Congress and everyone else is scrutinizing every possible way each federal penny is or could be spent, never propose any expenditure without first setting up good groundwork to make sure the public knows all the facts beforehand.
Even then you'll probably get whacked by your electoral opponents, but maybe things won't get out of control like the Great Christmas Tree Tax Tale of 2011.
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