By Julie Moran Alterio
STAMFORD — Diapers, tampons and other feminine hygiene items will cost Connecticut consumers less at the checkout if a bill to nix the 6.35 percent sales tax on the products gets passed into law.
“Why are women being taxed on our biology, on something that is not a choice, not a luxury?” asked Carolyn Treiss, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, the public policy arm of the General Assembly.
Connecticut consumers pay $3.6 million in sales taxes on feminine hygiene products and $4.2 million in sales taxes on diapers each year.
Connecticut would become the sixth state to drop the so-called “tampon tax,” an issue that has arisen in the past year with a handful of bills in play around the country.
Among the 45 states with a sales tax, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania do not tax feminine hygiene products.
New York is facing a class-action lawsuit claiming the tax violates the state’s equal protection clause.
In Connecticut, more than 120 products are already exempt from sales tax, including bicycle helmets, child car seats, diabetic supplies, and, notably, adult diapers.
“Disposable pads for incontinence are exempt from sales tax,” Treiss said. “Presumably it’s because those are for medical conditions out of the control of the people who have it. I’m not suggesting having a period is a medical problem. It is a biological function only experienced by women. It is not a choice. The purchase of products that address the issue is also not a choice.”
Connecticut, Maryland and Nebraska are the only states that differentiate between adult and baby diapers in collecting sales tax. Some states tax both while others tax neither.
No tax on Band-Aids
Stamford pharmacist John Ciuffo called eliminating the taxes a “great idea.”
He said feminine care products and diapers are among the few “medicine cabinet” items taxed at Cornerstone Pharmacy on Stillwater Avenue.
“We don’t tax Band-Aids anymore. We don’t tax Tylenol. We don’t tax cough syrup,” Ciuffo said. “It’s silly that you’re still taxing these and the next shelf over, you’re not taxing anything. It’s almost burdensome to me.”
Monday marked the bill’s first hearing in the state as the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee invited testimony from women and family advocates.
“There’s nothing men are taxed on that’s an uncontrollable bodily function,” said the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Kelly Luxenberg, D-Manchester.
Last year, Luxenberg introduced separate bills eliminating the tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products. The diaper bill was taken up by the Committee on Children, but ultimately stalled. The other bill went nowhere.
“It would be amazing to see this pass this year, but I’m recognizing the fiscal reality we’re in,” Luxenberg said.
Eliminating almost $8 million in tax revenue is a tough sell, Luxenberg admits, in a time when lawmakers are grappling with a $266 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year and anticipated $1 billion deficit next year.
There would be a tradeoff in eliminating those taxes, noted Nicole Kaeding, an economist with the Center for State Tax Policy at the Tax Foundation.
“If a state does decide to exempt tampons or any other item, it means all other items must be subjected to a higher tax to keep revenues constant,” she said. “That means if you exempt large categories of goods, you have to think about raising your sales tax, and then you might hit other categories of goods you’d consider a necessity, like soap or shampoo or toilet paper.”
But tough economic times are the right time to make this change, according to advocates, who say poor women are hit hardest by sales taxes.
The National Diaper Bank Network estimates that a supply of diapers costs an average of $18 a week or $936 per child, per year. Federal assistance programs such as food stamps or WIC cannot be used for diapers.
Eliminating the sales tax on diapers would be a boon for those who come to the Salvation Army, said Sheryl Benjamin, social services and relief fund coordinator for the Selleck Street location, which runs a program to supply diapers to needy Stamford families.
“Unless you’re the top 1 percent, if you have a child, the expense of diapers is going to seriously cut into your monthly budget,” Benjamin said. “It’s ongoing and very expensive and it’s one of those things you can’t really do without.”