This year, your real Christmas tree will be more expensive than it needs to be. That’s because the Department of Agriculture is imposing a fee on each fresh-cut tree sold.
A few months ago, the federal government created a national marketing program to advertise the virtues of real Christmas trees. It’s funded by a 15-cent surcharge that will be added to the cost of each tree sold. It’s not a tax, Washington insists — merely a fee that you have to pay.
“The Christmas tree industry requested this initiative to fund Christmas tree research and marketing, the program will be funded solely by the industry, and the government is not imposing any tax on Christmas trees,” an Agriculture Department spokesman explains.
It’s a distinction without a difference. If a fee is imposed on a product by a government, it’s a tax on the consumer.
Regulators also defend the new program by noting that other products, including pork (The Other White Meat), beef (It’s What’s For Dinner), and milk (Got Milk?) have advertising campaigns funded by the feds. Well, that simply means consumers have been paying more than we needed to for those products as well.
This new tax that’s not a tax was imposed as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. It was first announced in November of 2011, but was put on hold after an Internet firestorm erupted in opposition to it.
There seems to be a legitimate problem here. Growers are worried because sales are dropping. The WSJ reports that real tree sales “declined by 6% from 1965 to 2008, while the market share for artificial trees increased by 655% in that same period.”
But only the federal government could think it can sell more of a product by making it more expensive.
Christmas season is already upon us. Satellite radio is delivering round-the-clock Christmas music, and people are lining up for Black Friday sales: two women in Beaumont, California have been camping out since Nov. 7. Lower prices for gasoline should give Americans more money to spend on gifts. Or more expensive trees.
Update: USDA said Monday it is not implementing the tax this year despite a regulation allowing it to do so having gone into effect.