Taxing Water

Taxing Water October 14, 2019

WalMart has been the focus of a lot of attention because of how it pays its employees and other matters related to economic justice. Well, here’s another: they have been charging sales tax on water. Laws differ in certain cases that are understandable. Flavored waters, sweetened waters, bottles sold in vending machines are all taxed in at least some states in some instances. Indiana is rare in not imposing sales tax on most water.

But in this case, we are talking about a water refill, going with one’s own reusable bottle and filling it up at a filtered water dispenser. And we are talking about sales tax being imposed when the state doesn’t require it, and so presumably WalMart is pocketing the extra few cents.

If water cost a few cents more I probably wouldn’t care and wouldn’t notice. So why am I bothering to make a fuss about this? Because of the more basic issues of justice related to access to drinkable water, business practices, and poverty.  I am thinking about the ethical matter, and am bothered more by the response of the manager at the store first to say it was customer error, and then to offer to refund the $.03 but without changing the computer system and addressing the underlying issue. There are people whose tap water is not drinkable. Flint, Michigan comes to mind, of course, as do other places with lead or other toxic substances in their water. But so too do those with well water that may be safe to drink, but the iron taste and sulfur smell makes drinking it pretty much unbearable. Often those with such tap water are among the poorest communities. To have no choice but to pay for water when other more privileged communities do not have to is already an injustice. For a corporation to then add a fake tax into what people are charged and then pocket the money is something that I think deserves to be called out.

I wonder whether this is a store-specific case or a national practice. Either way, they can get away with it since most people won’t notice the few cents extra on their bill, and most of those who do will not bother to say anything. Unless someone says something publicly, of course, which is what I am trying to do here.

And so let me ask: Do you refill gallon (or larger) water bottles at WalMart? If so, I think you should check your receipt next time. Let me know what it says.

Here’s the one that drew the matter to he attention of my wife and I. Coming just to get water and being prepared with exact change, and then finding a discrepancy in what was charged, made it noticeable in a way that it would not have been if it were just one item among many…

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