Claim: The U.S. government has imposed a 15¢ per tree tax on producers and importers of Christmas trees.
Example:[Collected via e-mail, November 2011]
President Obama’s Agriculture Department today announced that it will impose a new 15-cent charge on all fresh Christmas trees — the Christmas Tree Tax — to support a new Federal program to improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees.
Origins: On 8 November 2011, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was published in the Federal Register establishing a "national research and promotion program for Christmas trees" in order to "strengthen the position of fresh cut Christmas trees in the marketplace and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees within the United States." The program included an assessment of 15¢ per Christmas tree "domestically produced or imported into the United States":
USDA received a proposal for a national research and promotion program for Christmas trees from the Christmas Tree Checkoff Task Force (Task Force). The program will be financed by an assessment on Christmas trees domestic producers and importers and would be administered by a board of industry members selected by the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretary). The initial assessment rate will be $0.15 per Christmas tree domestically produced or imported into the United States and could be increased up to $0.20 per Christmas tree. The purpose of the program will be to strengthen the position of fresh cut Christmas trees in the marketplace and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees within the United States.
The Task Force proposed that a referendum be held among domestic producers and importers three years after the first assessments begin to determine whether they favor continuation of the program. The Task Force recommended that the program be continued if it is favored by a majority of the current domestic producers and importers voting in the referendum. Current domestic producers or importers who domestically produce or import more than 500 Christmas trees annually will be eligible to vote in the referendum.
Despite widespread usage of the word by the general public, this assessment was not intended to be a "tax" (i.e., a surcharge imposed to raise revenue for the government) but rather to be an industry-approved method of funding a Christmas tree business promotional program to help boost sales of live trees:
The Christmas tree industry petitioned to set up its own promotional program after years of concern about lost market share to the artificial Christmas tree industry. The National Christmas Tree Association said a majority of growers favored the petition.
Industries get the Agriculture Department involved to make sure the effort to promote their product is fair and unified. If the USDA eventually approves it, a board of industry representatives will make decisions on how to promote and research Christmas trees.
The program — similar to familiar industry campaigns like "Got Milk?" "Beef: It's What's For Dinner" and "The Incredible Edible Egg" — would have been fully funded by fees on the industry at 15 cents per Christmas tree sold.
Christmas tree farmers have been hit by the increase in popularity of artificial and plastic trees over the past several decades, and they want to find a way to keep their businesses — mostly small family farms — going.
"I think with this program, it is going to be a positive and build up our business," said Sherry Severt Taylor, the daughter of the owner of Severt Trees in Elk Creek, Va. Severt has tree farms in Virginia and North Carolina.
"Individually, we can't afford this exposure. But as a collective group, it's going to help, and we need this help because of the artificial trees," Taylor added.
Nonetheless, due to unfavorable public reaction, on 9 November 2011 the White House announced implementation of the program would be delayed:
Is the Obama administration really taxing Christmas trees? No, but the White House said it was reversing its decision to approve an industry-sponsored Christmas tree promotion program after conservatives accused the Agriculture Department of spoiling Christmas with a new tree tax.
The United States Department of Agriculture "is going to delay implementation and revisit this action," White House Assistant Press Secretary Matt Lehrich [said].
The White House was adamant that the White House was not seeking to impose a tax on Christmas trees.
"I can tell you unequivocally that the Obama Administration is not taxing Christmas trees," said Lehrich. "What's being talked about here is an industry group deciding to impose fees on itself to fund a promotional campaign, similar to how the dairy producers have created the 'Got Milk?' campaign."
The 15¢ assessment would have applied to those who produced or imported more than 500 Christmas trees annually and would have been paid by them, not by the buyers (although it is possible that sellers might in some way have passed the costs along to end consumers).