Lawmakers push for textbooks to be tax-free

Iowa city, February 09, 2019: Some lawmakers want to “level the playing field” for private booksellers at Iowa’s college communities after vendors last year aired concerns public universities were capitalizing on sales tax exemptions to gain an edge on not just textbooks but clothing and fan gear.

Legislation that passed a subcommittee Wednesday with unanimous support would exempt from sales tax — no matter who is selling — all “instructional materials required for a course of instruction at a postsecondary institution in this state.”

The sales tax exemption does not extend to non-academic gear commonly sold at bookstores like sweatshirts, jerseys and socks.

“It does level the playing field for books and equipment that are required by the universities or their instructors as part of a class,” said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, the sole Democrat on the House Ways and Means subcommittee that advanced the measure according to reports published in

It was reported last year that the University of Iowa and Iowa State University had stopped collecting sales tax on all items at their campus bookstores — from textbooks to face tattoos — which drove down their prices and upset private competitors.

The University of Northern Iowa, just entering the book business with its purchase of a private vendor, also planned not to collect sales tax there.

Lawmakers last year introduced legislation nixing sales tax on textbooks regardless of the vendor. The bill cleared the House but stalled in the Senate, which never took it up.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, is sponsoring this year’s bill.

“I expect this will pass,” he said. “We are trying to put the pressure on to get this through both chambers and signed by the governor.”

The real benefactors of the legislation are students, Kaufmann said, who have seen the cost of higher education rising.

“Our goal is that folks buying books at private stores are not at a disadvantage,” he said.

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