Tax free storm prep could help residents, retailers

We've had plenty of rain this hurricane season, but relatively little tropical storm action.

Of course, that's not exactly a surprise. It's August and September when the Lowcountry goes on high hurricane alert.

That's why the start of August would be a great time to reinforce the need to be hurricane-ready.

Here in South Carolina, the first weekend of August is dedicated to tax-free back-to-school shopping — a perfectly worthy way to help families get ready for kids to return to the classroom. Of course, it also offers a shopping incentive for anybody wanting to buy clothes, sheets, shoes and school supplies, including computers.

Why not include a hurricane supply tax break, either in August or at the start of hurricane season.

It works for guns …

Several coastal states offer this incentive.

Alabama held its tax-free storm preparation shopping weekend in February, letting residents stock up on batteries, first aid kits and fire extinguishers. Generators are also covered.

Louisiana held its tax-free hurricane shopping weekend in May. It's been an annual event since 2007 and it also allows folks to make final payments on relevant items they put on layaway, and covers batteries, blue ice for coolers, storm shutters, cellphone batteries and chargers.

The item in Thursday's Post and Courier caught state Rep. Jim Merrill's eye.

“I thought 'Well, that's kind of bizarre that we've never thought of that,' ” the Charleston Republican said.

The concern with any sales tax holiday is that there are some winners and some losers.

It leaves a lot of other retailers out in the cold.

“You've got to walk a pretty thin line to make sure that you don't start hurting other merchants who can't avail themselves of these other opportunities,” Merrill said.

A gentle nudge

Complacency is the enemy when it comes to storm preparation.

“We're spending an awful lot of time trying to teach people about evacuation routes—and to take these things seriously,” Merrill said.

But with a few near misses for us (Hanna, Irene) it's hard for folks to remain vigilant.

A lot of people have moved here after Hugo and don't have that firsthand experience of dealing with the aftermath of a storm of that magnitude.

All of which is to say, a little incentive to prepare might be just what we need to get people to consider making some real preparations.

Now, it wouldn't be a grand-slam, particularly when you consider the greater benefit to coastal retailers than those in the Midlands and Upstate.

But Merrill said the idea has merit.

“If you can make a good solid case and say that this will help people, not only in making preparations but people who don't have the means to go out and buy something to put in reserve, then you can make a case that the whole state would probably benefit,” Merrill said.

It's certainly worth legislative consideration.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or

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