"Lend me your ear as I spin a tale of deception, injustice and thievery." Storytellers begin with a line such as this to capture listeners' attention as they take their audience into a world of fiction. Sad to say, my story is one of truth.
The truth is that there are two federal programs that do not allow businesses to collect sales tax on certain goods and services but expect these same businesses to pay sales tax for these same goods and services. These programs are destroying small business owners, and despite appropriate attempts to get governmental help, nothing is being done to right the wrong.
My story begins in S.C. Code of Laws - Title 12 - Taxation where durable medical equipment and related supplies are exempt from sales tax. Section 12-36-2120 is very clear in defining exemption and durable medical equipment. My company provides such durable medical equipment and services to the greater Grand Strand area. The obvious hardship this creates for my business, and many other small, locally owned and operated businesses, should be clear. How can we survive if we are forced to pay a tax that we are not allowed to collect?
My story continues with Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs. Our businesses must pay S.C. sales tax on all money received for services rendered to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. If we must pay sales tax, then we need to collect sales tax. However, Medicare and Medicaid programs prohibit providers from collecting sales tax. As Robin might say, "Holy bill of rights, Batman!"
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Because small businesses like ours are the backbone of our nation's economy, I believed, perhaps naively, that there had simply been an obvious misunderstanding. As a voter who believed in our government, I joined with other small durable medical equipment business owners to express our concerns with local politicians. Our industry, like all of you, should be able to rely on those we have elected to stand up for us and not only admit the injustice, but do what needs to be done to correct the injustice.
One by one, we have approached senators, congressman, city council and others and have consistently heard the following: South Carolina has a budget crisis, and while we know and are sympathetic to your plight, our lack of funds will not allow us to correct the tax problem. I know I can be naive at times. After all, I've been a hard worker for 26 years. I haven't relied on nor used any state or federal programs to maintain my household or put food on my table. I have a basic belief system where good triumphs over evil, hard work pays off, and early bird gets the worm. OK, maybe I'm getting a little carried away, but I'm sure you understand where I'm going. Maybe you've been there.
This is where our story takes a horrible turn and is reaching a disastrous end. Through our efforts to educate and change the system, S.C. Department of Revenue decided our businesses needed to be audited. One by one, S.C. small durable medical equipment businesses have endured tax assessment audits. In the meantime, the sales tax burden has proved insurmountable. Businesses have closed, jobs have been lost, and lives have been ruined. Those of us who have managed to hang on for now are currently paying two to three times more in monthly sales tax than the amount we can collect. Something has to change.
When the big man is allowed to bully the little man because he can, there is an obvious problem. We, as the people, need to take a stand. Whether it's our right to see how our politicians' vote when behind closed doors, our right to pray in public, or our right to collect sales tax we are forced to pay in turn to the government, I feel it is time for us to unite. The specific right is insignificant - If you don't think rights are worth fighting for, wait until your livelihood is taken away by our state government. Then you will have your own tale of deception, injustice and thievery, and then you will recognize the importance.
The writer lives in Murrells Inlet.