Dominic Calabro: Halloween candy teaches a frightening lesson in Fla. tax policy

Don’t be surprised when vampires and ghosts ring your doorbell on Friday — and I don’t mean political canvassers. Halloween is coming and trick-or-treaters will be out and about. Before you rush to the nearest corner store and buy a bag of Halloween candy, figure out if you’re handing out tricks or treats.

Taxes on Halloween treats can get tricky. While most grocery items are exempt from sales tax, most candy is not. Much of the goodies trick-or-treaters will bring home in their pillowcases and pumpkin buckets will have been taxed under the state’s 6 percent sales tax, plus any additional local option sales taxes that can be up to 7.5 percent in Florida.

It’s not just the Milky Ways, Skittles and Kit Kats that are taxed — candy apples, chewing gum, mints, cotton candy and jellybeans are charged, too. But chocolate-covered cookies and pretzels, Cracker Jacks and fruit rollups are tax free treats.

But Florida’s tax rules get even trickier. Marshmallows are not taxed, but marshmallow candies, like Halloween Peeps, are.

The tricky taxes go beyond Halloween treats. Ice cream sold by the pint or smaller is taxed, because those sizes are considered single servings under Florida’s tax laws, while ice cream sold in containers larger than a pint is not. Next time you’re in the grocery store and you spring for a half gallon of Neapolitan, you can justify the purchase because you saved your tax dollars!

While the tax rules for Halloween candy might seem like a trickster’s joke, it’s not the only tax discrepancy in Florida. An even larger concern is the inconsistency of Florida’s collection of sales tax on online purchases.

If you buy a television from Sears online, you’ll pay sales tax, but if you buy the same television from a company located outside of Florida, the tax isn’t included in your purchase price. It’s your responsibility to visit the Florida Department of Revenue website to fill out the form DR-15MO and send the lawfully owed taxes to the state yourself. Because the state doesn’t have the ability to enforce the rule, it’s not a surprise that only a handful of Floridians fill out the form.

The tax on Halloween candy probably isn’t going to affect the number of people who buy treats this Halloween, but sales taxes on televisions might mean the difference between visiting Florida stores like Walmart or Brandsmart or an online retailer without a Florida operation.

This Halloween, check your receipt after your pick up your candy. You’ll probably find that you were taxed. If you bought the same candy online from CVS or Walmart, you’d still pay the tax, but if you purchased it from a retailer who didn’t have a store in Florida, you won’t be charged, though you are still legally required to fill out the DR-15 form.

It’s time for Florida to tax fair and tax transparently, so that we can keep capital in Florida and encourage taxpayers to support local businesses, local jobs and local companies.

Dominic M. Calabro is President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Dominic Calabro

Dominic M. Calabro is President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.


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