Politics & Government

Cantwell, Murray among senators wanting to end tax on shoes

WASHINGTON – U.S. consumers could see a sharp drop in the price of imported shoes – and that includes nearly all shoes sold in the United States – if a bipartisan group of senators is successful in stamping out the nation’s “shoe tax.”

“It is kind of a hidden tax, and getting rid of it would be nice to do,” Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said Wednesday.

Cantwell has teamed up with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Pat Roberts of Kansas to promote the Affordable Footwear Act, which would eliminate roughly half of all duties on imported shoes.

Cantwell, the chief sponsor, said that consumers are paying a tax of up to 40 percent in some cases. Backers said the legislation would lead to more sales for retailers and more savings for consumers.

While the bill has yet to arouse any opposition, it’s a hit with the shoe industry. In 2010, it would have eliminated about $800 million of the $2 billion collected on imported children’s and low-cost shoes.

“It would be fantastic. It would allow (consumers) to buy a second pair or buy a pair that they normally would have to put off another month,” said Bill Snowden, a shoe distributor from Bellevue and the senior vice president of Topline Corp., which employs 100 people.

The shoe tax, which dates back to the 1930s, was originally aimed at protecting a manufacturing sector that has all but disappeared in the United States, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association, a national trade organization.

The group said that 99 percent of the shoes purchased in the United States in 2010 were produced internationally, making it virtually impossible for Americans to avoid the shoe tax. The legislation would apply to all imported shoes, including those manufactured abroad by U.S. companies.

Shoe industry officials say their business has hard-nosed competition that has kept retail prices from rising much since 1999, but inflationary pressures are mounting.

Kevin Burke, the group’s president and chief executive officer, said Americans “are about to face the first increase” in footwear prices in more than a decade. He said that quick passage of the bill would help alleviate those rising costs for consumers.

Supporters of the legislation say the tax is regressive and particularly hurts the poor, who spend a larger share of their income on basic necessities such as shoes.