mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

I didn't fight the law at the hamfest, because the law would have won..

Today was the CaraFest Hamfest in Howard County. The weather held out, I woke up on time, and I bought a couple things, including an Apple Airport Extreme for $6 (open box, haven't tested yet). I sold a bunch of stuff, and made... well, I can't say, in case the man is reading the blog.

About mid-morning, I saw two middle-aged women having a long conversation with the people accross from me. They looked out of place - besides being women at a hamfest, they had a stack of forms and one had a wheeled briefcase which clearly wasn't designed to wheel over the gravel of the Howard County Fairgrounds. When they talked to the guy next to him, and a paper with a state seal appeared on the back of his Explorer, I realized who they were - the Maryland Department of Revenue, making people collect and submit sales taxes. The next guy refused and packed up his stuff, telling customers that the state had shut him down. Then the women disappeared for a while.

Around noon, they came back. I had planned on leaving around noon, so when I heard them talking to the people next to me, telling them they either had to fill out the form or leave, and they started packing, I decided to follow their lead and pack up as well. I hadn't sold anything in a while, and didn't want to stay too late anyway.

As I was packing up, lots of other people were as well. Most vendors were arguing with the revenue people - hamfest sellers tend to be an independent bunch, many with a libertarian streak - I remember seeing quite a few Ron Paul stickers two summers ago. They tend not to be big fans of big government.

I realize that technically flea market vendors are evidently expected to collect and pay sales taxes. Traditionally, though, things like yard sales have been exempted, and most of the people selling at hamfest are closer to yard salers than storefonts - they are people clearing crap out of their basements, except it's usually oddball electronics and computer stuff that the average yard sale shopper would have no interest in. I probably sell quite a bit more than the average seller, and I often wonder if it's really worth all the effort. From years of shopping at hamfests, and watching and talking the sellers set up near me, I would guess the average seller probably sells less than $100 worth of stuff. It's hard to believe that it was worth the cost of the time of two state employees on Sunday (I wonder if they get overtime) to try to collect the couple dollars worth of sales tax that each vendor should have collected.

One seller mumbled something about "great job driving business out of the state, Maryland", and I tend to agree. I worry that this is going to be the final nail in the coffin of hamfests, which have already been shrinking and in some places disappearing. For the marginal vendor - the guy with a couple old radios/pc's/electronic parts in his basement - it's not worth the hassle of filling out forms and charging taxes to sell a few things when he's already barely making enough to pay for the tailgating space, gas, food, sunscreen (well, ok, not at today's), ect. Fewer vendors means fewer customers, and that means eventually there isn't enough revenue for hamfests. And while they might not be a huge draw, they do bring a number of people in from out of state - people who buy food and gas and other stuff at nearby businesses. They also attract the kind of smart, nerdy, creative people who you want in your state.

Like writing speeding tickets for doing 55 in a 54, enforcing sales tax laws at a hamfest seems like one of the things that, while the government has the right to do it, probably shouldn't be done.


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