Yes, Virginia, There Is a Christmas Tree Tax

Via Heritage’s “The Foundry” blog (and the outraged Facebook posts of former Cato interns), behold the Christmas Tree Tax.

It’s an announcement from the Agriculture Department’s Agriculture Marketing Service that it will be levying a fifteen cent tax on Christmas trees, payable to a new “Christmas Tree Promotion Board.” The tax will raise about $2 million from Christmas tree farmers and importers directly. That money comes indirectly from you.

As noted at The Foundry, the Ag Department claims the fifteen-cents-per-tree “assessment” is “not a tax nor does it yield revenue for the Federal government.” This claim fails both informal and formal analysis.

Informal: Do Christmas tree farmers go to jail if they refuse to pay? Yes. It’s a tax.

Formal: Is it a “non-penal, mandatory payment of money or its equivalent to the extent such payment does not compensate the Federal Government or other payee for a specific benefit conferred directly on the payer”? Bingo. Tax.

The formal definition is from the Taxpayer’s Defense Act, a bill I helped write while a congressional staffer after carefully researching the distinction between taxes and other government revenues, such as fines, legitimate fees, and such.

The Taxpayer’s Defense Act would have barred agencies from establishing or increasing taxes without first getting Congress’ approval. The idea was simple: No taxation without representation. And that idea is violated by the Agriculture Department’s new Christmas Tree Tax.