August 29, 2013

Editorial | Sales tax discount for seniors should go if not enforced

The following editorial appeared Wednesday in The (Hilton Head) Island Packet

The following editorial appeared Wednesday in The (Hilton Head) Island Packet

A little known and little used sales tax discount for people 85 years and older needs to go, or it needs to be enforced. State officials can take their pick.

The law that knocks off 1 percentage point from the state’s 6 percent sales tax has been on the books since 1984, but it’s been more trouble than it’s worth for many who have tried to use it. Seniors who have asked for the discount say they get a lot blank stares. Often, they wait while retailers try to figure out how to give it to them. People on both sides of the transaction seem unhappy.

To get the break, seniors have to show proof of their age. The state Department of Revenue will issue a card identifying the bearer as eligible for the discount, but any valid ID will do.

The pleas of ignorance from retailers reflects poorly on them and the Department of Revenue, which is supposed to be making sure retailers follow the law.

They should know about it. A law passed in 2001 requires retailers to post a sign on their doors or at their registers telling seniors about the discount. Some do, and some don’t.

A $100 a month fine is to be levied if a retailer doesn’t have the sign up; repeat offenders could have their state retail license revoked. But a Revenue Department spokesman says the department relies on people to report retailers’ failure to do so. That means a lot of retailers are breaking the law with no repercussions.

The 2001 sign law was passed the same year a class-action lawsuit against the state was settled on behalf of seniors. The state set aside $7.5 million to be divided among people who were 85 years and older and who lived in the state between 1998 and July 31, 2001.

No one begrudges seniors 85 and up a modest discount on purchases, but if the Department of Revenue isn’t going to enforce the discount, then lawmakers ought to take it off the books. It doesn’t do seniors much good if it’s too much trouble to get it or the seniors themselves don’t know it’s available. Uneven or absent enforcement isn’t fair to retailers, either.

“Someone thought they were doing a good thing, but they’re really just giving lots of entanglements and hassles to stores and customers,” said an 89-year-old Hilton Head Island resident. “They either need to get rid of the tax break or make it more clear for everyone.”

Lawmakers should listen to their elders and get this straightened out.

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