Mar 10, 2023 - News

Texas poised to eliminate tampon tax

Data: Alliance for Period Supplies; Note: Includes legislation that went into effect in January 2023; Map: Madison Dong/Axios Visuals

An unusual alignment of political interests means Texas is closer than ever before to exempting tampons and pads from sales tax.

Driving the news: State Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat, laid out a bill this week before the House Ways and Means Committee that would exempt from sales tax menstrual products — as well as diapers, wipes, baby bottles, pregnancy clothes and breast-milk pumping products.

  • Howard and other members — from both parties — have made similar proposals in several legislative sessions running — but they won little traction in the GOP-controlled Capitol.

What's changed: The U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs decision last year, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

  • The ruling meant abortions in Texas were virtually completely prohibited — and left Republican politicians concerned they would alienate suburban women voters.

Flashback: Last summer, after the Supreme Court decision, state Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Senate Finance Committee Chair Joan Huffman, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott — all Republicans — said they supported exempting menstrual products from sales tax.

  • "As chair of Senate Finance, I am proud to make this effort one of my priorities," said Huffman, from Houston. "Every woman knows that these products are not optional. They are essential to our health and well-being and should be tax exempt."
  • Last month House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, listed the exemption of feminine hygiene products and diapers from sales taxes as one of his priorities. "It is essential that the Texas House makes meaningful progress this year on better supporting mothers and children in the state," Phelan said. (It doesn't appear among the 30 listed priorities for Patrick, who presides over the Senate.)

Of note: Freshman Round Rock Republican Caroline Harris has also filed a bill exempting period products from sales tax — a sign of how key the issue is to suburban constituents.

What they're saying: "The last campaign cycle there was some concern among Republicans that women were not being supported in terms of making their own decisions about their own health care," Howard tells Axios. "Clearly we’re talking about abortion. There was recognition that there needs to be some movement that is supportive of women."

By the numbers: The Comptroller’s office estimates that sales tax on feminine hygiene products generates about $28.6 million annually.

  • "Texas can absorb this lost revenue easily, but for countless Texas women, this will mean significant savings in their personal budgets over time," Hegar, who authored abortion restrictions as a state senator, said last year. "This is a small amount of money relative to the overall revenue outlook for Texas."

Between the lines: In arguing for the measure this week, Howard also pointed out the record budget surplus — $32.7 billion — lawmakers have at their disposal.

  • "The uniqueness of this session, with the surplus, is that there's a little more breathing room for people to be comfortable with doing something that decreases the chief source of state revenue," Howard tells Axios.

Zoom out: Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., have banned taxes on menstrual items and 12 states are considering legislation for so-called "period tax" exemptions this year.

By the numbers: The average cost of menstrual products is about $20 per cycle and adds up to about $18,000 over the average woman's lifetime, the National Organization for Women estimated in 2021.

  • One in four people in the U.S. who menstruate can't afford period products, according to the nonprofit Alliance for Period Supplies.
  • Tampon prices rose in the first half of 2022 by nearly 10% and pads by more than 8%, a NielsenIQ report found.

Calling the tampon tax "a very much middle-class issue," Ameer Abdulraman, national campaign manager for Period., a global nonprofit, told Axios that "since the fall of Roe, there's been a lot more conversations around the tampon tax issue in conservative states."

Be smart: In October, CVS Health started paying the tax on period products purchased in-store and online in 12 states — including Texas — and has cut prices nationwide on store brand period products.

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