Missouri Offers a Sales Tax Holiday and a Rebate for Energy Efficient Appliances

April 19, 2010

Some energy efficient appliances are tax-free in Missouri during this week’s energy efficient appliance sales tax holiday. In addition, consumers may be eligible for rebate checks on energy efficient appliances through the Energize Missouri Appliance Rebate Program funded by the 2009 federal stimulus package.

As we have written before, sales tax holidays are unjustifiable. They do not provide any substantial boost to the economy, they introduce unnecessary complexity into the tax code, and they arbitrarily discriminate between consumers based on what types of products they purchase. Sales tax holidays are a political gimmick.

But Missouri’s unique combination of a sales tax holiday and a rebate program helps to highlight one point that we continually make here at the Tax Foundation. The rebate, where the government writes a check for a given amount to a consumer after they have made an eligible purchase, is clearly a spending program. The government is subsidizing consumer purchases, in this case energy efficient appliances, using money in their accounts.

In the case of a sales tax holiday, consumers are allowed to keep sales taxes that they normally would be required to pay. So, what is the difference between the government cutting someone a check after a purchase has been made and the government waiving that person’s sales tax liability at the point of purchase?

Economically speaking, there is none. Sales tax holidays are an example of what are known as tax expenditures, and are best characterized as government spending funneled through the tax code. Both of Missouri’s appliance programs have the same effect: revenue that would have been available for spending on essential government services is instead awarded to the consumer of the favored product. And in both cases there are two possible outcomes: services must be cut to reflect the lost revenue, or (more likely) that revenue will have to be made up elsewhere in the form of higher taxes.

All too often one is viewed as government spending and the other as a tax cut.

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