Good Idea

Exempting textbooks from the sales tax.

A bill in the state House of Representatives, if passed, would exempt textbooks purchased by students from the state sales tax, which is 4 percent.

“We just thought it would be a good idea to exempt the sales tax on the price of books,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, state Rep. Ron Forster, R-Ringgold. “We exempt sales tax on food because it helps average Georgians as far as buying their groceries, and this would help the average student as far as buying their books.”

Students who attend public colleges and universities on the HOPE Scholarship already receive a $150 book allowance, but it is rarely enough to cover the entire cost of books.

Again, though, this goes back to the whole piecemeal approach that we’ve had. I really think this is a good idea, but I hope the legislature gets a move on overall reform.

18 comments

  1. RuralDem says:

    Yeah, as a member of my school’s SGA, we’ve been discussing this legislation.

    Erick, maybe you or someone else can shed some light on why this has not made it to the floor for a vote in the past? Looking through the General Assembly’s previous sessions, the idea has been out there for years, Democrats and Republicans have supported it, although at separate times. However, it never makes it to the floor for a vote.

    You would think that Democrats would support it because of the price relief on higher education students and that Republicans would support it due to the idea of a tax break.

  2. Erick says:

    Rural,
    I don’t know. My guess is that college students’ issues are at the bottom of the heap because so few are political active. But then I’m a bit cynical.

  3. memberg says:

    Exempting school books from sales tax is a red herring. True, I think it’s a fine idea – I thought about it myself just after paying $600 for textbooks this semester. But the real problem is the lack of competition both in book stores and publishers. Obviously, there’s really nothing that can be done when new editions are required, or about the professors’ freedom to teach from the textbook of their choice (in most cases). With respect to used books, there is something that can be done. At least at public schools, there should be some sort of online system that brings together current/prior students in a class and future students. A craigslist type system might work just fine.

  4. commonsense says:

    So when Mark Taylor and Zell exempt groceries bad idea (just ask Laffer, Richardson, or Sonny) because it makes an uneven tax code. Same with Barnes sales tax holidays.

    Do you guys have a principle on this, or is it only good when your side introduces it?

  5. RuralDem says:

    memberg,

    There are systems such as half.com that are somewhat similar to your suggestion. The only problem now however is it seems like almost every semester a professor requires a new edition or an entirely different book for a class. That basically kills the idea of reselling used books, except for items like reference manuals for writing papers, which shouldn’t be sold anyway.

    What really irks me is that we have 3 bookstores around here, including the University bookstore, the University bookstore charges say $150 for a book, the other bookstores might charge $100. Either way you’ll literally get maybe $10-$15 back at the end of the semester, and if you don’t sell it at the end of the semester for which you took the course, you’re not going to get any money back because a new edition will be out.

  6. Jmac says:

    This is a fine idea, but would this legislation mean the exemption extends down to any local taxes too? My point being that we’re already limiting the ways local communities can raise revenue, and exempting textbooks – however small that portion may be in the grand scheme of things – is just another exemption.

    Don’t get me wrong, exemptions like this aren’t necessarily bad things, but if this applies to local governments too, then we keep hindering them.

  7. Mike Hauncho says:

    I think the biggest way to cut down on the cost of books is to make schools stop switching to the newest edition each and every semester. Buying used books helps cut the cost of books which can be $150 a piece. I know schools use textbook sales as a way to raise money but I find it hard to believe that there is that much change between editions that I have to buy a new book each and every year.

  8. RuralDem says:

    Mike Hauncho,

    Correct me if I am wrong but the professors themselves, not the schools, choose what textbooks the students need.

    Sometimes it is universal, for example, the Math Department at my school all uses the same textbooks for the intro math classes, however the Political Science Department professors use whatever textbooks they want for the intro political science classes

  9. memberg says:

    Rural, obviously there are already several e-commerce sites in place, and new editions do come out regularly. But I’d bet that more often than not, an edition will carry over to at least the next semester. The problem with half.com et al. is that buyers and sellers are almost never close by or at the same school. If the schools had their own communities, student-buyers and student-sellers would benefit.

    As far as book buy-backs go…I was under the impression that the Athens bookstores would offer 50% if you sold it back to them (assuming no new edition). Also, I found that the only difference in the book stores was the availability of new vs. used. Otherwise, new books pretty much cost the same everywhere. Maybe it’s really changed since the early 2000s.

  10. RuralDem says:

    I can only speak for my area Memberg so you could be correct regarding textbooks in Athens.

    Even the professors here will tell you to go to the other bookstores instead of the school bookstore because they charge so much.

    You’d be surprised at how quickly a new textbook will suddenly be worth nothing.

  11. Nicki says:

    Um, yeah, it’s changed. My husband got $15 back on his $139 biology book. And every semester it’s kind of a guessing game as to whether the same edition will be used. You get far more back on half.com, but if no one buys your book relatively quickly you’ve missed the window to resell at the bookstores.

    And while I don’t generally shout to to Republicans, woo Ringgold!

  12. john.d says:

    As has been pointed out, this tax subsidy may help but it doesn’t fix the “text book problem.”

    I highly encourage everyone to learn about and support the Global Text Project (http://globaltext.org). It is a project started that the University of Georgia. They need contributors for content and more support from the University System of Georgia. Please solicit your professors and other students to contribute to the program. They just received $200,000 USD from the Jacobs foundation to start the initial 10 books.

  13. mercergirl says:

    It would really help at Mercer- we only have one textbook store in town. Unless you want to go to the internet, there isn’t much out there. A lot of times you can buy from other students but its really a huge hassle. I’m Poli Sci and one semester I paid over $1000 just for books. Let’s not even get into what my tuition is…

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