No tax-free holiday this year for back to school

By JEFF BISHOP Many parents still haven't received the word that Georgia's state legislators opted not to renew the traditional "tax free weekend" for back-to-school shoppers this year due to a $2 billion budget deficit. Ouch.
"WHAT!?!" said Kimberly Purgason Elrod of Newnan. "I usually wait to shop for school supplies and clothes," until the tax-free weekend kicked in. But that won't be an option for her this year. "I'll go ahead and hit the sales now," she said. "Guess I'll be raiding closets and friends' closets, too! And mending last year's book bags!" The tax-free holiday had been in place since 2002, helping parents save on clothes, school supplies, book bags, computers, and other "back to school" items. Some stores added traction to the event by holding special sales on their own for items that did not qualify for the exemption, saving parents even more money. But the recession has hit hard, and state officials said the money just wasn't there this year. The holiday was costing the state about $12 million in revenue. "What I hear Georgians say is they'd rather have their classroom teachers in the classroom teaching than have that sales tax holiday," said House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) during March budget negotiations. But the decision not to fund the tax holiday couldn't have hit cash-strapped -- and sometimes unemployed -- parents at a worse time. Unemployment in Coweta is still unusually high, at 9.7 percent, although not as high as it was last winter. Retail outlets say they expect shoppers to show up, anyway -- tax break or no tax break. And some local parents say they are trying to look on the bright side. "In a way, it's a relief, because I will not feel pressured to buy all the school supplies like I used to on tax-free day," said Jennifer Starr of Turin. "It was almost not worth fighting through the crowds of people." Daniel Brock, who grew up in Turin and graduated from East Coweta High School but now lives near Cleveland, Tenn., said things could be worse. "At least you have the luxury of living in Georgia and not paying the Tennessee sales tax rate we have up here," said Brock. "Depending on the city, it ranges from 9.5 percent to 10.75 percent. You gotta love that lack of income tax we have here."

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