Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Charles Owens

July 31, 2013

Back to school: It’s time to shop tax free and save at the state line

— The state line is for all practical purposes an invisible boundary that we cross on a regular basis with little or no thought of the action. Those of who live closer to the greater Bluefield area cross the state line on an almost daily basis as part of our normal routines.

That’s not to say that folks living in and around Princeton don’t cross the border on a frequent basis as well, because they do. But perhaps not on a daily basis like those of us living at or near the state line in the two Bluefields. We cross the border just about every day — and sometimes it is for the specific purpose of going to Taco Bell in Bluefield, Va., as the old restaurant chain slogan goes. But many others simply cross the border to go home or to work each day.

While competing against the business-friendly Commonwealth of Virginia presents a number of challenges for officials in neighboring West Virginia, there are still inherent advantages to living near the state line. For example, if you like to gamble you can choose between both the Virginia Lottery and the West Virginia lottery. You can in return double your chances of losing between the two states. (Let’s face it, your odds of winning still aren’t that great even if you play the lottery in both states.) You can also shop tax free one weekend each summer in Virginia. And that big tax free weekend begins this Friday and continues through Sunday.

During the sales tax holiday, parents will be able to purchase a number of back-to-school supplies for their children tax free. Items that will be exempt from the sales tax during the holiday include most articles of clothing and footwear priced at $100 or less each, and school or office supplies that cost $20 or less per item. There is no limit to the number of items an individual can purchase without paying the sales tax, provided each item meets the sales tax holiday restrictions, according to a press release explaining the sales tax holiday.

 A list of qualifying items, guidelines for the holiday and answers to frequently asked questions are available on the Virginia Department of Taxation’s website at www.tax.virginia.gov. It is important to note that anyone can buy tax-exempt items during the holiday. You don’t technically have to be a parent. And you don’t actually have to purchase just school supplies for children in order to shop tax free. And at the state line border, you don’t have to be just a resident of Virginia to shop tax free. In fact, many of the families and individuals who will be taking advantage of the sales tax holiday this weekend are from West Virginia. Why? Because West Virginia still doesn’t have a new sales tax holiday of its own. We haven’t had one for years in West Virginia. Why lawmakers in the Mountain State refuse to consider a sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping is simply baffling. Such sales tax holidays are a win-win for all involved. Why not schedule another one for West Virginia?

And some Virginia-side retailers during the sales tax holiday may elect to pay the sales tax themselves on any non-qualifying items that they want to offer tax-free to customers this weekend. As a result, shoppers can expect to find a lot of good deals on other items as well. If you are going to go shopping, and buy clothing and other back-to-school supplies, this is an ideal weekend to do it.

The sales tax holiday is a big weekend for Virginia-side retailers, and that’s good for the region’s overall economy. We want our local retailers to prosper and succeed. And in order for that to happen, sometimes we must open our wallets and spend a little bit of our hard-earned cash. And when you can do that without having to pay a sales tax, the savings slowly add up.

Why the West Virginia Legislature refuses to consider a new sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping is a good question. There are obvious things that lawmakers in West Virginia should be doing, and should have done years ago — like removing tolls from the 88-mile West Virginia Turnpike. The same goes for scheduling a new sales tax holiday. Why is it so hard to act upon such an obvious positive?

Who knows? But until Mountain State lawmakers decide to act, West Virginia’s loss will continue to be Virginia’s gain, at least one weekend each summer. And that’s good news for those of us living along the state line.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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