Tax-Free Holiday for Textbooks or Guns

Two different bills would create a tax-free holiday weekend to entice Texas shoppers. One is aimed at consumers that purchase college textbooks and the other targets firearm customers.

House Bill 206 authored by Republican State Representative Jeff Leach of Plano would establish that the last weekend in August be a tax-free holiday for consumers wishing to purchase firearms, ammunition, and firearm cleaning supplies. A similar bill, Senate Bill 228, authored by Republican State Representative Brandon Creighton of Conroe has already received the green light by the Texas Senate.

The Texas Tribune reports that Texas stands to lose $3.6 million per year (or more than $11 million per budgetary cycle) in tax revenue if SB-228 is ultimately passed. Texas would join the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina who offer a similar tax holiday for gun enthusiasts. You know because when one thinks of states to have in their corner regarding gun legislation, Louisiana and Mississippi top that list.

“The price of tuition, fees and textbooks have all risen dramatically over the last decade, and, collectively, they are turning the dream of a college education into a nightmare for more and more Texas students.” – Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown)

On the other spectrum, four Democrats and one Republican have individually filed bills that would afford college students a tax-free holiday weekend for textbooks.

Democrat State Representative Terry Canales of Edinburg (HB-641), Democrat State Representative Mary González of El Paso (HB-337), Democrat State Representative Ana Hernandez of Houston (HB-491),  Democrat State Representative Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville (HB-728), Democrat State Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo (SB-157), and Republican State Senator Charles Schwertner of Georgetown (SB-232) are trying to help more students afford the day-to-day expenses while seeking a higher education.

This is not the first time that a bill calling for a tax-free holiday for textbooks has been proposed. Lucio filed such legislation but the bill failed. Perhaps the bill has died because the most vocal opponent against a tax-free holiday are municipalities that rely on sales tax revenue from textbook sales.

As a gun owner and concealed handgun license holder, I will not entertain the legislation calling for a tax-free holiday for firearms since I think it is a joke. As a former college student and graduate student, I would pick a tax-free holiday for textbooks over guns any day. I will most likely purchase more textbooks in my lifetime than firearms. Although I support the textbook legislation, I do not think it does enough to tackle the real issue that plagues higher education in Texas. Texas is applying a band aid approach when the real issue in higher education is tuition.

Luckily, Schwertner has decided to target tuition deregulation as well. Senate Bill 233 would cap tuition and fees at public universities at their current levels and would only be permitted to increase at the rate of inflation. In a TribTalk column, he reasons that:

The unintended consequences of tuition deregulation continue to shortchange Texas students. By providing public universities the flexibility to set their own rates, the Texas Legislature has essentially given them a perverse incentive to increase tuition and fees as the simplest means of expanding their own operating budgets. In the fall of 2003, a resident undergraduate attending class full time paid $1,934 per semester in tuition and fees. A decade later, the same student owed an average of $3,951 per semester. Since 2003, tuition and fees at Texas public universities have more than doubled, and designated tuition (the portion of tuition set directly by the universities) has increased an astounding 222 percent. Are we really expected to believe that the value of an undergraduate degree is worth twice what it was only a decade ago?

Schwertner concludes that, “Attending one of our world-class public universities shouldn’t be a luxury afforded only to the wealthy or those willing to mortgage their futures by assuming massive student loan debt. It’s time to demand that our public universities live within their considerable means and work to provide affordable and attainable higher education for Texas students.”Unfortunately, SB-233 is currently pending in committee since mid-April. I encourage folks to contact the Senate Committee on Higher Education and voice your support for SB-233.