The Grinches Who Taxed Christmas

Published November 9, 2011

The Federal Register yesterday reported a new tax effective today: 15 cents on every fresh-cut Christmas tree to . . . wait for it . . . promote the purchase of fresh-cut Christmas trees.

If you’re surprised by the announcement, so are many others. This tax is not the result of Congressional action and debate. It is the result of bureaucrats inside the Agriculture Department acting on their own initiative – apparently with behind-the-scenes maneuvering by representatives of the Christmas tree industry.

Seems some in the industry have long been trying to create a Christmas Tree Promotion Board. The industry has never been able to get enough Christmas tree producers and importers to voluntarily pony up money for the board, so, capitalists and believers in free enterprise that they are, they turned to bureaucrats in the Agriculture Department to create their long-sought promotion board for them and fund it with tax dollars.

Hard to Believe

I actually came across this story last night but didn’t report it till now because I thought there must be something wrong. David S. Addington of the Heritage Foundation reported it Tuesday night on his blog. Turns out he was correct, as his story has been verified.

I thought it was wrong because I thought the Constitution still meant something, and that document, which our government’s leaders all swear to uphold and defend, puts Congress in charge of raising government revenues and spending money.

Turns out Addington was right because Congress passed something called the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996, which allows for such a tax to be imposed without the bother of going through Congress.

Not a Tax, Says Ag Dept.

Addington spoke with Acting Director of Agricultural Marketing David R. Shipman and reported, “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.'”

Presumably this is because the money collected will fund the Christmas Tree Promotion Board, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture will create, and that board’s job will be to promote Christmas trees, not pay for Medicare or Medicaid entitlements or military adventures or food stamps or other things the government does.

Addington scoffed on his blog, “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.”

Others are scoffing too. “It is shocking that President Obama tried to sneak through this new tax on Christmas trees,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) in a statement Wednesday.

The National Christmas Tree Association said in a statement the program “is not expected to have any impact on the final price consumers pay for their Christmas tree.”