Monday, November 14, 2011

Taxing Christmas

You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch
With a nauseous, super-naus!
You’re a crooked, jerky jockey,
And you drive a crooked hoss, Mr. Grinch!
—Dr. Seuss, How The Grinch Stole Christmas!

I am not even making this up.

Last week the Obama administration announced it would impose a 15-cent per tree tax on freaking Christmas trees!!!  That’s right, Cindy-Lou, the new tax is part of a program administered through the Department of Agriculture—the Christmas Tree Promotion Board—aimed at “promotion, research, evaluation, and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry’s position in the marketplace.”

It’s unclear against whom, exactly, the Christmas tree industry needs to evaluate its marketplace position against, or why it needs federal government help to do it.  I can only assume that our need to generate jobs is so urgent that it is necessary to make this kind of investment so that we don’t lag behind the Chinese in this emerging industry of the future.  Where are the separation-of-church-and-state zombies when you need them?  Or even better the enviro-Nazis?

You mean the federal government is promoting the cutting down of Christmas trees?!?!  Where is the red-speckled one-testicled tree ferret supposed to live now?  Ohhhh, the planet’s going to hell!!!

Although I'm given to understand that the adminstration has since delayed implementing this fee, it nevertheless raises a number of interesting issues.  One is simply the practical question of how you’re going to administer this thing.  I have no idea how we define a “Christmas tree”—we have a number of nurseries where I live that sell a variety of trees year-round, and also sell “Christmas trees” in the Fall; if they sell a live oak in December, is that a “Christmas tree” such that the tax is owed?  What if they sell a Scotch pine in June?  And who is going to do the counting and collecting?  Somehow this reeks of a cancerous bureaucracy, with hoards of newly-minted federal employees dished out to go make the rounds.  One can see the operating costs alone dwarfing the revenue that will be generated.

Some things never change in the District.

The second issue is that this thing is a tax (and, it bears mentioning, a discriminatory tax on Christians, at that—where’s the tax on menorahs, or burqas, or atheist Vegan tofu?).  A tax created from whole cloth by an administrative order from an agency of the executive branch.  In other words, it’s a tax imposed by the President.  I’m scraping through my copy of the Constitution, and damned if I can find that power anywhere.  I see Article I, Section 7, which says that “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives[.]”  I see Article I, Section 8, which says that “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises[.]”  But I don’t see anything in Article II—or anywhere else—authorizing the President to assess or collect a tax.

Sigh.  Are we sure this guy was a professor of Constitutional Law?

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this tax, however, is the way it came about.  As noted above, this tax is supposed to go to fund the activities of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board.  Now, let’s leave aside the obvious joke—er, point—that the District has demonstrated itself pathologically incapable of avoiding dipping into “dedicated” revenues to supplement its spending from general revenues, and focus on the process.  Apparently this Christmas Tree agency is an outgrowth of several years of effort by some in the industry to gain federal promotional assistance.  But the problem they were having is there weren’t enough industry members voluntarily contributing enough money to make it work.  So the Board has to step in with a mandatory assessment.  In other words, not enough of the Christmas tree industry had enough interest in government promotional help to pay for it, so the government is going to compel participation and financial support by force. 

You WILL be promoted, by God, whether you like it or not.  Now shut up and pay.

This is how unions work.  And Mafia wise guys.  RICO, anyone?

But consider what happens if we start expanding that concept to other industries.  Let’s say the UAW convinces the Obama administration—I know, that link is a stretch, but stick with me here—to set up a board under the Department of Transportation or Department of Commerce to research and promote the U.S. auto industry’s position in the marketplace; say, the Commission on Responsible Automobile Promotion.  And one of the things they want it to do is run a half-billion dollar ad campaign.  Ford says no thank you, we’re doing fine with our own ads.  So GM and Chrysler go to CRAP and say they need a $125/car fee assessed on all domestic sales (roughly the proportionate equivalent of a 15-cent tax on the average Christmas tree price of $36).  Voila!  Based on 2010 sales numbers, GM and Chrysler just got about a $230 million advertising subsidy from Ford at the point of a federal gun.

Worse, what happens when the Obama administration sees it can unilaterally impose this tax for a specific purpose—a tax on a consumer item that will undoubtedly flow through to the purchase price—and no one says anything about it?  Bear in mind that in Obama we have a President desperate to raise additional jack to fund his unprecedented spending spree, and who is increasingly willing to step beyond his Constitutional authority to act when he sees Congress isn’t.  If a 15-cent tax on Christmas trees is OK, why not a 15-cent tax on everything?  (that, by the way, would be a federal sales tax, kids)  Why, you’ll hardly even notice it.  And, of course, once 15 cents is OK, all bets are off and the sky is really the limit (which is one of the fundamental problems with Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 sound bite).  Good luck getting that horse back in the barn.

Yet another reason I’m glad I have an artificial tree (made in the U.S.A., thank you).

Welcome Christmas come this way
Fahoo fores, dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas, Christmas Pay!
Welcome, welcome fahoo ramus
Welcome, welcome dahoo damus
Christmas trees are in our grasp
So long as we have funds to tax
Fahoo fores, dahoo dores
Welcome all Whos far and near
Welcome Christmas fahoo ramus
Welcome Christmas dahoo damus
Christmas trees will only be
If Obama collects the fee
Fahoo fores, dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas, Christmas Pay
Welcome Christmas fahoo ramus
Welcome Christmas dahoo damus
Welcome Christmas while we stand
All in line with cash in hand
Fahoo fores, dahoo dores
Welcome, welcome Christmas Pay!

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