WUOMFM

Michigan's tax on tampons is unjust. It's time to repeal it.

Jan 31, 2017

Tampons and sanitary napkins.

I’ve been a journalist for four decades, and during that time have written and broadcast about everything from train wrecks to Marshall Tito. I’ve written about plumbing problems in Russia and filed stories from Paraguay, but don’t think I have ever written a word about tampons. That isn’t because I am squeamish about them.

It may be mostly because I am a man, haven’t had daughters, have worked most of my life for male-dominated news institutions, and because tampons have seldom been on my radar, except when there was an outbreak of deaths caused by toxic shock syndrome.

Well, today that changes.

State Representative Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, has made me aware of a substantial injustice.

In Michigan, we exempt most medically necessary products from sales and use taxes, including, I’m told, erectile dysfunction medication.

We even exclude candy and soda pop from sales taxes. But not tampons.

We even exclude candy and soda pop from sales taxes. But not tampons. You pay our 6% sales tax on them if you buy them at the store, and a 6% “use,” or luxury tax, on them if you buy them over the internet.

“That may not sound like a lot of money,” Ms. Brinks told me, “but think about this. This is a product women essentially have to use for 30 or 40 years.”

Over time, that means the Brinks household – Winnie and her three daughters – may pay thousands in taxes on an item that is, essentially, medically necessary.

She thinks that is unjust – and so do I.

Today, she plans to introduce legislation to repeal the tax on tampons and sanitary napkins, and State Senator David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, will introduce identical legislation in the state Senate.

Knezek said he became aware of this when he gallantly went to buy some for a girlfriend, didn’t realize they were taxed, and ended up hunting in his pockets for change.

The two legislators told me repeal would cost the state about $5 million a year, a fairly insignificant sum when you are talking about an almost $10 billion general fund.

The two legislators told me repeal would cost the state about $5 million a year, a fairly insignificant sum when you are talking about an almost $10 billion general fund.

Plus, whatever pennies women save are likely to be spent immediately on other items, boosting the economy. This tax also tends to be roughly regressive in that it tends to fall more heavily on poorer citizens. Teenage girls must buy this product; 50-some male executives don’t.

Clearly, repealing this tax is only fair. But this bill’s sponsors have a major hurdle to overcome. They are both Democrats, and without Republican backing, nothing gets passed.

The Legislature is also male-dominated. Last year, State Representative Lisa Posthumous Lyons, a Republican from West Michigan, introduced a similar bill that would also have removed the tax from adult diapers, but it went nowhere.

She’s now out of the Legislature.

But there are plenty of current Republican women lawmakers, and hopefully a few sensitive men, who ought to be on board with this idea. How about State Senator Tanya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who is said to want to run for statewide office?

There are more than five million women in Michigan, all of whom are paying, will pay, or have paid this tax, one their governor and president never will.

My guess is that if their legislators heard from even a fraction of them, these bills might start moving, pretty quick.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.