09 January 2008

Let no good deed go un-taxed

You know those gift cards you got for Christmas? You might as well use them. The State of Maine has this idea that unused gift cards belong to the state government and that retailers owe the state money under the unclaimed property law.


There is an element of Maine's justification that I take issue with.

"There is a windfall of sizable proportions here that Maine law wants to return to the consumers, and that the national retailers want to hold on to," said [Maine State Treasurer, David] Lemoine, who has sought — without success so far — to get large chains to pay up.

[...]

"The remaining 60 percent is true windfall, and the Maine Legislature has taken the position that the windfall has been taken out of the consuming public and should be returned to the consuming public," he said. (All emphases mine.)
Supposedly, this move by Maine is to return the money (or at least a part of it) to the "public consumer". There's just one problem. The "public" consumer didn't buy these gift cards; specific private consumers, with names, addresses and bank accounts purchased these cards. The "public" consumer didn't receive -- and fail to use -- these gift cards; again, specific private consumers received these cards. If the value, or part of it, is not going to these specific private consumers, then we shouldn't talk about anything being returned. If there is to be a return -- a refund, really -- the recipient of that refund ought to be the specific private consumer who purchased the cards. (And this is not impossible. As the linked story points out, these chains are more than capable of tracking who has purchased and used -- or not used -- these gift cards. This is not usually the case with properly unclaimed property.)

This isn't about returning anything. The only way this can be a return (i.e., to the public consumer) is if the State is the public consumer, in which case, the State must view itself as the the true source of the private consumers' money. In other words, no one has anything which is not ultimately owned by the State of Maine, the "public" consumer.

It's about taking.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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