Tuesday, February 22, 2005

"Let them eat cake" 21st century style

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:40 AM |  

Despite a world full of earth-shattering events, this item takes the cake -- literally.

State Sen. Brian LeClair has introduced legislation that takes the cake — and makes it tax-free.

Seeking to smooth out Minnesota tax laws, LeClair's bill would exempt ice cream cakes, such as those sold by Dairy Queens, from sales tax, just like their bakery counterparts.

"It does seem to make sense to me that it's a matter of fairness. If we're going to exempt bakery items, then we should exempt all bakery items," the Woodbury Republican said.
No Senator, it doesn’t make sense. But the “it" is why the tax was implemented in the first place and how the unfairness came about.
The issue had its genesis in a change to the tax code that came during the 2001 legislative session. Before then, cakes and other bakery goods weren't taxed. But lawmakers decided that beginning Jan. 1, 2002, there would be a tax on them.

The tax was short-lived. Consumers and bakers complained, so the 2002 Legislature voted to remove the tariff six months after it had gone into effect. But in doing so, ice cream cakes weren't included. . . .

LeClair said the state's Finance Department has not yet determined the bill's fiscal impact, but he said he didn't think it would be huge.

"None of these items are going to break the bank," he said.
Okay, so what do we have. We have a bill that was passed with no “huge” financial impact, but that significantly damaged a relatively few people. The law passed without regard to any principle of governance was repealed due to constituent complains, again based on no principle of governance. The repeal further screwed things up because it didn’t return the matter to the way it was before the ill-advised tax was put in place.

So, state legislators are wasting time tying to correct the consequences of a law that never should have been passed, trying up the time of state agencies (and spending tax dollars) writing fiscal notes to justify an action that never should have taken place. Meanwhile, small business owners must take time away from their businesses to build constituent support and lobby legislators to repeal the bad legislation in order to sell a cake.

Relax, only 2,730 pieces of legislation filed with the Revisor of Statutes office so far this year.

While front-page stories report and editorial screeds opine about casinos, stadiums, smoking bans and education, it is the myriad of often unreported bills that belay the attitude of those that govern. Benjamin Constant, writing in the 1800’s when political discourse was an art form, wrote --
“Whenever there is no absolute necessity, whenever legislation may fail to intervene without society being overthrown, whenever, finally it is a question merely of some hypothetical improvement, the law must abstain, leave things alone, and keep quiet.”
Simple, concise, that’s a phrase that ought to inscribed in every committee room at the state capital. Indeed, someone ought to propose legislation to do that. It makes a heckuva lot more sense than taxing cakes.

Selections from Benjamin Constant at Amazon.com.