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Arizona bills would exempt period products, diapers from taxes

Arizona bills would exempt period products, diapers from taxes

Hobbs called for exactly the kind of tax relief that a Senate Republican & House Democrat are pushing

  • In the past, lawmakers have hesitated to support similar bills, citing the revenue forfeited by exempting the widely bought products.
    miguelb/FlickrIn the past, lawmakers have hesitated to support similar bills, citing the revenue forfeited by exempting the widely bought products.

As many as 15 states have already eliminated the sales taxes from period products and diapers, and Arizona could be next. 

Two identical bills have been introduced this year that would remove the sales tax added to feminine hygiene products, infant diapers and incontinence products. 

The effort to give women and parents across the state relief has been years in the making. Former state Rep. Daniel Hernandez, a Democrat from Tucson, introduced similar measures every year between 2017 and 2022.

Some of those bills succeeded in making it out of the first few committees, but none of them passed out of the House. One was held, Hernandez said, because Democratic leadership had vowed not to support any tax exemptions until education funding was addressed. Another was killed by Republicans who preferred wholesale income tax reform. 

The idea arose from discussions on the campaign trail, during which constituents spoke about the high costs they dealt with. That burden has only worsened over time, as the state continues to grapple with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and spiking inflation rates from last year that only recently begun to decrease. In light of that continued need, Hernandez tapped his sister, Rep. Alma Hernandez, to carry on his work. 

“During these difficult times with high inflation and rising costs, the more we can do to help keep dollars in Arizonans’ pockets so they can spend it on these essentials that they’re going to buy anyways, the better,” he said. 

This time, the proposal has found early bipartisan support and an ally on the Ninth Floor. In her State of the State address on Jan. 9, Gov. Katie Hobbs announced plans to exempt period products and infant diapers. That was an encouraging sign for GOP Sen. T.J. Shope, who has introduced legislation to do just that. 

“I appreciate the endorsement, since it’s a monetary issue and would likely be addressed in that budget conversation,” he said. “I wouldn’t foresee it moving very quickly, but (it’s) something that will be on the table.” 

Adding incontinence products to the bill was especially important for the Coolidge Republican, who has received feedback about the high costs from constituents who are developmentally disabled and in long-term care communities.  

Early iterations of the bill included baby formula among the exemptions. This year’s versions don’t include it, but Alma Hernandez said that wasn’t for a lack of agreement with the idea but rather to give the bill a better chance of convincing lawmakers who might object to too many exemptions. 

“We have to start somewhere and starting here is good for families living paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “These are basic essentials and necessities for everyday life…We shouldn’t penalize families or elderly (people) who can’t afford these products.” 

Easing the strain on struggling Arizonans is particularly important for Alma Hernandez, who represents Tucson. A Census report estimated that as much as 19.8% of Tucsonans were struggling with poverty in 2021, nearly double the national rate of 11.6% for the same year. Exempting these products isn’t a complete solution, but it’s not a drop in the bucket either, she said. 

“Although it doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s saving people a few dollars every day, and it’s going to be a huge help,” she said. 

The National Organization for Women estimates the average monthly cost of period products to be $20. Parents see an even larger share of their budgets cut into, as the average infant uses up to 12 diapers a day, costing parents up to $80 dollars a month. 

The Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona receives donations from local and national businesses and distributes them to partner agencies such as U of A First Things First, Tucson Unified School District and Child and Family Resources. 

Dr. Shannon Roberts, the organization’s CEO, hopes lowering the costs of diapers across the state will result in more donations the Diaper Bank can give to families in need.

He claims that taxing these items is uncalled for because “people don’t ask to be incontinent, to have periods, and to be born into poverty,” he said.

In the past, lawmakers have hesitated to support similar bills, citing the revenue forfeited by exempting the widely bought products. Hobbs’ executive budget proposal, which only accounts for infant diapers and period products, estimates it will save Arizonans across the state as much as $40 million a year, with period products seeing the most savings. Meanwhile, a Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis of Shope’s bill found the impact on state revenues for all three categories it covers would total just $13.8 million in 2024. 

The Governor’s Office did not explain how it reached its estimate before this story was published. 

Lee Grafstrom, who analyzes tax policies for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said the strain on cities across the state would be manageable. While the League generally opposes the continued creation of tax exemptions because it complicates the tax code and eventually adds up, the impact on cities by exempting the products would only amount to around $28 million a year. 

“Twenty-eight million dollars is not small, but in the big picture, it is small and something we can find acceptable,” Grafstrom said. 

Shope pointed out that the revenue made through taxes belongs to Arizonans, and legislators have the power to decide which products to add an extra cost to. 

“I always view it as it’s not the government’s money. It’s our money, and we have an ability to tax what we see fit,” he said.

Alma Hernandez challenged lawmakers who may continue to balk at the price tag to keep in mind the benefits for Arizona families.

“These are items that everybody uses at some point in their life, so for me it’s not about how much the state will lose in revenue,” she said. “We’re coming out of a pandemic and families are still struggling to figure out how to stretch their paycheck so they can afford these items, so for me it’s more about: what are we doing to help Arizona families that are the most in need?”

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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