Andrew Langer

Federalism, a system of dual sovereigns and multiple levels of government, was envisioned by the founders a method of protecting and securing individual rights. The concentration of power in a single sovereign was viewed with much skepticism by the founders, inasmuch as concentrated power was apt to be abused (which is what they’d fought a revolution over, after all). Federalism has also offered the benefit of spurring competition amongst the states, whose differing policies offer a variety of attributes to attract (or repel) potential residents.

Among these competitions is if and how taxes are collected. Florida and Texas, for instance, collect no taxes on income, making them very attractive for people who can easily choose their states of residency, like retirees. Some states, like Delaware, have no state sales taxes, making them havens for people in neighboring states like Pennsylvania and Maryland, who can simply hop across the border to buy big-ticket items like flat-screen TVs. Likewise, some states have begin to offer ways of offsetting the local taxes residents pay for the “privilege” of receiving cable video service.

Federal laws already prohibit localities from taxing people for purchasing satellite video services. But cable providers are often taxed twice at the local level, with both local sales taxes and so-called “franchise fees”. A few states have responded to the lopsided tax bill by offering cable customers lower state sales tax rates. But for some reason, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the liberal Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wants to put a stop to this sort of tax break for consumers. HR 3679, the fascinatingly named “State Video Tax Fairness Act,” would restrict states from lowering taxes on cable customers, which he presumably believes is “unfair.”

The bill has ostensibly been offered to correct some perceived “inequity” between satellite and cable video providers, although we must remember that the taxes are paid by consumers, not providers. Satellite providers have been fortunate to have a federal law forbidding any local franchise or sales tax to be levied on their customers. Cable providers and customers have no such protection.


Andrew Langer

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty, an organization that works to ensure that America stays both exceptional and strong.

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