A Christmas tree tax? Well, actually, no
The Heritage Foundation crowed, “Obama couldn’t wait: His new Christmas tree tax.”
Fox News caviled, “Grinched by the government: Christmas tree tax to add 15 cents per tree.”
And Forbes complained, “Scrooge comes early this year.”
Right-wing media had a field day ripping President Obama and the Department of Agriculture for the tiny “tax” that was publicly announced on Tuesday. By Wednesday, the administration caved, withdrew the levy and took cover, but not before outraged Americans, like the letter writer on this page, had expressed baffled shock that government could be so callow.
Fueled by the Drudge Report, Fox News and other leaders of the war on Obama, the Christmas tree tax story became a touchstone for all that is wrong with government.
Unfortunately the media spin was completely misinformed and off the mark.
The “tree tax” was actually supposed to be a self-imposed levy requested by the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) to increase promotion and sales of real Christmas trees in the face of a dramatic rise in sales of artificial trees.
In a 2008 report, the NCTA stated:
“While the fake tree industry is investing dollars to vigorously promote their product, the Real Tree industry is pulling back and devoting fewer funds to public relations and marketing. More than 1,000 people donated more than $900,000 for 2004 promotion and marketing programs. By 2007, donations to the market expansion activities had dropped to about $400,000. The erosion of funding resulted in fewer projects aimed at positively impacting consumer attitudes about Real Trees limiting the ability of the industry to affect the sales of Real Trees in the marketplace.”
Those statistics led to a proposal that the “farm-grown” Christmas tree industry undertake a formal promotion campaign, funded by a levy on producers who sell more than 500 trees a year. Like the “Got Milk” campaign seen nationwide – launched in 1993 by the California Milk Processor Board and responsible for a dramatic increase in state milk sales – the Christmas tree “tax” was not supposed to raise the price of farm-grown trees, and was expected to improve sales for an industry suffering serious decline.
According to Agriculture Department records, fresh tree sales dropped from 37 million in 1991 to 31 million in 2007, while artificial tree sales doubled to more than 17 million. The levy was supported by the vast majority of commercial Christmas tree growers in the country, though growers in Vermont and Texas opposed it
None of these facts were published by the Drudge Report, which simply repeated a verbatim announcement from the Federal Register, followed by the snide question, “Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do? And, by the way, the American Christmas tree has a great image that doesn’t need any help from the government.”
Apparently, that’s news to the people who actually grow and sell Christmas trees, and to the Department of Agriculture, which was simply trying to help an important business sector survive.