Pumpkin tax hits like pie in the face

Nicole August, 8, of Las Vegas, Nev., carries a pumpkin at Stu Miller's Pumpkin Patch in Las Vegas.

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KAI RYSSDAL: I'm sure the people who work at the Iowa Department of Revenue are a nice enough bunch -- but today, they've got a bit of the Grinch who stole Halloween about them.

The department ruled back in September that pumpkins are going to be taxable. If Iowans swear they're going to take 'em home and eat them, they can get a rebate on the sales tax. Food's not taxable, but if it's Jack o' Lanterns for carving, pay up.

Bob Kautz runs a pumpkin patch near Davenport, Iowa. Mr. Kautz, how are you?

Bob Kautz: Hi, great.

RYSSDAL: Tell me, when people shop for pumpkins at your pumpkin patch, sir, do you typically ask they what they're going to do with it when they get it home?

Kautz: [Laughs] I never have.

RYSSDAL: But now the state wants you to, basically.

Kautz: Well, they... If I don't want to pay sales tax, they want me to. Because unless they sign a form, the state expects me to pay the appropriate 7 percent sales tax.

RYSSDAL: Seven percent? So, now in effect what the state's done is taken 7 percent off the top from you, right?

Kautz: [Laughs] That 7 percent, it affects me this year from the standpoint I'm going to pay out of my pocket. Next year, it affects the customer. It goes to the customer -- it's really the customer who's the loser, not me.

RYSSDAL: What do you get for a pound of pumpkin?

Kautz: Thirty-five cents a pound -- so a 10-pound pumpkin would be $3.50.

RYSSDAL: Add 7 percent on top of that and it's still an affordable luxury, wouldn't you say?

Kautz: Yes -- of course, my concern... I'm an older person, I do this kind of when I retired. I'm 62 years old. And again, they talk a lot about family values and getting the family together... And I'm open four weeks -- most pumpkin patches are open about the same amount of time. I don't think, and I'm not politically motivated, but I don't think this is a great source of revenue. There's only, I don't know, 25, 30 growers of pumpkins in the state of Iowa, I would think. I mean, this is five weeks.

RYSSDAL: What do you gross in four or five weeks of pumpkin selling?

Kautz: We can probably gross in the range of $15- to $18- $19,000. But you know, there's insurance that has to be had for this patch because of the liability with the kids that are going through here, and you have to pay advertisement and of course you have to pay health. So you never know until the middle of November, when you calculate it up, what is actually left.

RYSSDAL: Now, be honest with me sir -- do you think people actually buy you pumpkins and go home and make pies out of them, or do they go to the store and get the canned stuff and, you know, do it the easy way?

Kautz: Well, I don't think it's the state's business to know what people do with pumpkins, bubble gum, cigarettes or whatever, you know? And I'm sure some customers will say to me, "Well, I'm going to buy these to eat." And I will probably certainly not charge them.

RYSSDAL: I'm shocked that people would not tell the truth about what they're going to do with a pumpkin.

Kautz: [Laughs]

RYSSDAL: Before I let you go, sir, what are you going to be for Halloween? Tonight, are you going to dress up?

Kautz: I dress up for 38 days in my pumpkin hat -- so tonight, no, I'm going to take a break.

RYSSDAL: Alrighty... Bob Kautz runs the Buffalo Pumpkin Patch out near Davenport, Iowa. Mr. Kautz, thanks so much for your time.

Kautz: You're welcome, thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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