tampon tax

Should gender-specific products be exempt?

Lawmakers in Wisconsin have once again introduced a bill that would exempt tampons and other feminine hygiene products from sales and use tax. A similar measure introduced in 2015 failed last spring, as did a bill that sought to require the provision of feminine hygiene products — free of charge — in state and school buildings.

The most recent legislation, Assembly Bill 683, is simple and to the point. It would create a tax exemption for “the sales of and the storage, use, or other consumption of feminine hygiene products.” Unlike similar measures in other states, AB 683 doesn’t bother to define or provide examples of “feminine hygiene products.”

According to a 2015 fiscal estimate, an exemption for feminine hygiene products would decrease Wisconsin sales tax collections by approximately $2.7 million annually.

States that exempt tampons

In addition to the five states that have no general sales tax — Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon — feminine hygiene products are exempt in Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. They’ll be exempt in Florida as of Jan. 1, 2018, and in Connecticut starting July 1, 2018.

Measures to exempt these products have been introduced and struck down in numerous states in recent years, including Colorado, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Texas. In California, an exemption was approved by the legislature but vetoed by the governor.

Arguments for the exemption

Wisconsin Rep. Melissa Sargent, one of the sponsors of the current and previous bills, says that by taxing feminine hygiene products, “women are being penalized simply on the basis of being a woman.” Fellow Representative Adam Neylon agrees, noting that “only one gender has to pay the sales tax” (Journal Sentinel).

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a menstrual policy advocate and New York attorney, points out that lower-income women have to pay a higher percentage of their income on pads and tampons. Sargent adds that “while food pantries sometimes stock soap or toilet paper, feminine hygiene items are rarely available.”

Arguments against the exemption

In a report published by the Tax Foundation, economist Nicole Kaeding writes, “Ideally, sales tax should apply to all final consumer purchases, without regard for whether a product is a ‘necessity’ or ‘luxury.’” She maintains that “this idea of exempting necessities is a political one, not an economic one.”

Kaeding further notes that “no state assesses a special or unique tax on feminine hygiene products.” She argues that “states should also be hesitant to exempt items such as feminine hygiene products from their sales tax base because … [a]s the sales tax base gets smaller, states must raise tax rates on the remaining items to generate the same amount of revenue.” In other words, “[m]oves to exempt items from the sales tax base are moves to tax the remaining goods (and sometimes services) at a higher rate.”

Nonetheless, there has been much talk of taxing and exemption essentials in recent years. Learn more in Baby blues: taxing essentials.