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State tax reprieve increases computer sales

Monday, August 07, 2000

By Steve Levin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Everybody loves a sale, and Gov. Ridge has given his blessings to a statewide one.

Given the number of press releases flowing from politicians in anticipation of yesterday's kickoff of Ridge's "Tax-Free PC" shopping week, you'd think an election was at stake. While that is true for many of the legislators, the sales tax reprieve also was a chance for families to purchase personal computers without having to pay sales tax.

Local computer retailers were ecstatic.

"It went even better than we expected," said Debbie Lampenfeld, operations manager at the CompUSA store in Wilkins. She said sales were double over the same weekend last year.

"Mostly what I noticed a lot were kids buying computers for school," she said. "There were a lot of teen-agers with their parents. The parents were doing the buying."

The tax-free week continues until Sunday. In promoting the week, Ridge claimed it was the first of its kind in the nation. He said the exemption was a way, given his $774.3 million tax cut package enacted as part of the state's 2000-01 budget, for more Pennsylvanians to have access to computers.

The state's 6 percent sales tax -- and the 1 percent local use tax in effect in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties -- are suspended. A family purchasing a $2,000 computer in Pittsburgh, for example, could save $140.

To qualify for the sales tax exemption, the computer must be for nonbusiness use and be ordered and paid for during the one-week period. Related products such as monitors, printers and software also are tax exempt if purchased at the same time. It also includes personal computers bought through the mail or over the Internet.

Jumping onboard the tax-free week and issuing weighty statements in favor of it were state Secretary of Aging Richard Browdie, Education Secretary Eugene W. Hickok and a clutch of Democrats in the House of Representatives. The Pennsylvania Retailers' Association weighed in, too, along with the Consumer Electronics Association and even Joel Smith, director of the Office of Technology for Education at Carnegie Mellon University.

In addition, the state Department of Revenue mailed information about the program to 280,000 Pennsylvania retailers.

The message got out.

"That was definitely a shot in the arm" for us, said Mike Barron, general manager of Best Buy in Ross. "We had an extremely good day of sales.

"They're buying total packages -- computers, printers, monitors, software -- they're buying it all," he said.

A second "Tax-Free PC" shopping week is scheduled for Feb. 18-25.

For questions about the tax exemption, log onto the Revenue Department's Web site, www.revenue.state.pa.us.



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