Did the Government Enact a ‘Christmas Tree Tax’ Beginning in 2014?

A move by Christmas tree producers in 2011 to help their industry in the long run was quickly spun by right-wing outlets into grist for its neverending “War on Christmas” content mill.

The myth of a “Christmas tree tax” originated in response to a statement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the National Register:

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.

As NPR reported at the time, right-wing television commentators blamed then-U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration for the industry effort, calling it a “Grinch move.” However, the administration placed a stay on the fee.

The issue resurfaced in 2013, when the 15-cent assessment was included as part of a larger bill (which failed in the House). The inclusion of the fee led to a graphic recirculating the claim that the fee was a “tax”:

However, the fee did come into effect following the passage of the Agriculture Act of 2014.

“No taxpayer funds will be used and no tax revenue will be collected,” the USDA said in a statement. “Programs such as this allow producers within a particular agriculture sector to come together to fund research and jointly market their products.”

The fee applies to retailers who produce or import more than 500 Christmas trees every year; it was renewed in both 2018 and 2019 in separate referendums of retailers conducted by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Update 11/16/2021, 3:18pm PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. -ag