Pennsylvania – State’s Quirky Sales Tax System: Soft Drinks Are Taxed, Candy Gets A Pass

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
by Patricia Sabatini
December 11, 2017

Chances are good you’re keenly aware when the warm woolen mittens, diamond pendant or other important gifts on your holiday shopping list go on sale. But do you know which items are subject to Pennsylvania sales tax?

Did you know leather clothing is exempt, but items made of fur — even imitation fur — are taxable? Or that swimwear is taxable while lingerie gets a pass?

If you need a toothbrush, toothpaste or dental floss, you won’t pay the state sales tax. Yet mouthwash, shampoo and antiperspirant are taxable.

Uneven, unfair, bewildering. Those are all words that could be used to describe Pennsylvania’s decades-old sales tax system created in 1954. Back then, the tax was 1 percent vs. today’s 6 percent.

Sales tax is a major source of revenue for the state, bringing in some $8.6 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal year, which gets deposited into the general fund. Sales tax on motor vehicles netted another $1.4 billion that year.

Gov. Tom Wolf has looked at broadening the tax, chiefly to help balance the budget. But figuring out how the system of oddities has developed over the years is challenging.

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue declined to comment for this article, saying its job was to administer the sales tax program, not write the rules.

Mr. Wolf’s office also declined to comment.

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