Scrooge: Obama administration to tax Christmas trees

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The taxman got an early Christmas present from the Obama administration this week with the approval of a new fee on all fresh Christmas trees.

The Heritage Foundation reported that the United States Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that it will be imposing a 15 cent fee on the trees in an effort to support a new federal program to “strengthen the position of Christmas trees in the marketplace, and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees.”

The 15 cent fee, according to the Federal Register for November 8, 2011, will raise about $2 million, which will go to a 12 member “Christmas Tree Promotion Board” that will promote fresh Christmas trees and “grow demand for fresh-cut Christmas trees” over artificial ones — the fresh trees’ direct competitor.

A group of Christmas tree producers and importers comprising the “Christmas Tree Checkoff Task Force” pointed out that their industry has been hurt by the prevalence of artificial trees.

“According to the task force, two main factors currently affecting Christmas tree sales, both in the domestic market and abroad, are increased competition and changing consumer habits,” the Federal Register read. “According to additional data supplied by the task force, the market share of fresh Christmas trees in the U.S. from 1965 to 2008 has declined by 6 percent. In comparison, the market share of artificial trees has increased 655 percent from 1965 to 2008.”

The task force additionally noted that while there have been attempts at programs such as this in the past, those were all voluntary and failed to raise enough revenue for their promotional aims.

The Christmas tree industry has been in existence since 1850, and, in America, currently consists of 12,000 farms that produce over 17 million trees annually. Over 75 percent of the Christmas trees produced in the U.S. come from Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

While the new program is designed to assist the fresh tree industry, not all growers approved of the idea. Of the 565 comments submitted to the USDA when considering this rule, 398 approved, while 147 disapproved. The main grower opposition came from organizations representing Texas and Vermont.

Update: ABC News reported Wednesday afternoon that, in the wake of a massive amount of criticism, the program is being delayed.

“I can tell you unequivocally that the Obama Administration is not taxing Christmas trees,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich told ABC News. “What’s being talked about here is an industry group deciding to impose fees on itself to fund a promotional campaign, similar to how the dairy producers have created the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign.”

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