The U.S. House of Representatives on March 6 withdrew a vote for a bill that would have provided more than $400 million in tax relief for members of the military. The setback came because the bill also would have provided more than $300 million in tax breaks for special interests - including manufacturers of plastic tackle boxes.
Plano, Ill.-based Plano Molding Co. would have seen the abolition of a 10 percent excise tax on its tackle boxes. Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Ill., added the removal of the 19-year-old tax to the Armed Forces Tax Fairness Act of 2003.
Democrats said it was in bad taste to fix the additions to a bill involving the military during the current war-charged climate. The bill's vote would have come on the same day President Bush addressed the nation regarding its status with Iraq.
``For Democrats to say this is inappropriate is completely hypocritical,'' said Weller spokesman Ben Fallon. ``They had their opportunity in the Ways and Means Committee to vote against it and it passed unanimously.''
Dan Maffei, spokesman for New York's Charles Rangel, the ranking Democrat of the House Committee on Ways and Means, called that statement ``disingenuous.'' He said there is Democratic opposition to the amendment, but Democrats did not demand a recount after the original voice vote was made, to move the proceedings along more quickly.
``It's not that we oppose or favor any particular amendment,'' he said. ``This is just not the appropriate place for small fixes to the tax code. This is a bill to help our troops bear the sacrifice of defending our nation.''
It was not known immediately if the bill would be back on the House floor or if the amendments still would be attached. Soldiers would have seen taxes on their capital gains, travel expenses and other costs eased.
Plano, touted as the nation's largest tackle-box manufacturer, did not return calls. According to Fallon, the injection molder operates three facilities in Illinois employing more than 500. The plants are in Plano, Mendota and Sandwich. Plano, which got its start during 1932, produces storage products and organizers, including toolboxes and cosmetic organizers.
Plano lobbyist George J. Mannina Jr. said the tax, levied on items such as fishing rods and motor boat fuel, collected $418 million during 2002 and is put to use for various state projects, such as upgrading boat ramps.
Tackle-box sales in 1984, when the tax was introduced, totaled $60 million. By the end of the 1990s, that total had dropped to about $48 million, he said.
``If you walk into a store and you see two identical products, one that is 10-plus percent cheaper than the other, you will buy the cheaper one most of the time,'' he said. Some stores add markups on top of the 10 percent tax, Mannina said.
Keith Ashdown, vice president of policy for the Washington-based watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, said TCS did not support the amendments favoring Plano, as well as groups ranging from the Thoroughbred Racing Association to U.S. manufacturers of bows and arrows.
``It's absolutely the wrong place for special interests to conduct a tax-break boon,'' Ashdown said. ``These guys should be ashamed of themselves.''
Mannina said it was not Plano's choice to attach the amendment to the measure. He said the committee informed the firm that this was the bill that could include miscellaneous tax code amendments.
``This has been pending for years,'' he said. ``We'll let others decide if this is the appropriate vehicle. That's the one that was offered to us.''
The last attempt to eliminate the tax was in 1999 when it was attached to another tax-relief bill. President Clinton vetoed that bill, but not because of the tackle box issue.
Federal Elections Commission reports reveal powerful Illinois Republican J. Dennis Hastert, whose district includes the city of Plano, has received $5,000 in campaign contributions from Plano Molding President Peter Henning and his wife, Jackie, since 1997.
Fallon said Weller's support of the amendment is strictly a ``job's issue.''
``We've got 150 jobs in the Plano factory in Mendota that rely on those tackle boxes to put food on the table,'' he said.
Maffei disagreed, calling the amendments ``tax pork.''