Christmas Tree Tax, on Steroids

Last night, 79 Senators voted against an amendment offered by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) that would make “check-off” programs for businesses and small farmers voluntary.

What is a “check off” program? Well, do you remember the Christmas Tree Tax? Last November, the Obama administration announced its intent to impost a new 15-cent charge on all fresh cut Christmas trees to support a new federal program to market and promote the Christmas tree. Not surprisingly, the Christmas Tree Tax was met with indignation across the political spectrum and the Obama administration quickly halted the new fee.

Lost in the pre-Christmas absurdity was the fact such taxes (or “fees”) are commonplace in the agriculture community. Senator DeMint’s amendment would have made the Cow Tax, Milk Tax and other such taxes voluntary. It was a strong legislative solution to an egregious affront to free market principles.

More specifically, “check-offs” are compulsory payments made to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)—the same group responsible for the “Got Milk?” and “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner” ads. Currently, many farmers and businesses are mandated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to participate in these “check off” payments, or else risk being fined anywhere between $1000 and $10,000 per violation.

Think about a small cattle farmer in Oklahoma who may or may not believe that the AMS marketing campaigns align with his interests or advocate for his particular practice. Whether he agrees with how the “check-off” payments are spent, he is still forced to make payments to the AMS or face a fine. Industry experts claim that there is overwhelming demand and support for these “check-off” campaigns. If this is the case, then there is no need to make the programs mandatory. Senator DeMint recognizes this for what it is—yet another government program designed to tax businesses and farmers.

Even the Inspector General of the USDA announced last March that there is virtually no oversight from AMS on how this money is spent. And already, there have been examples of corruption—whether it’s using “check-off” dollars to fly spouses around the world or violating laws that ban spending “check-off” dollars on lobbying.

Farmers and businesses associated with agriculture do not need a government program to market their products, and no government entity should be empowered to force these entities to pay tribute and fine them should they fail to comply.

Related Links:
Key Vote Alert: “NO” on the Farm Bill (Senate)
Key Votes Alert: Senate Farm Bill Amendments
The K Street Food Fight

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