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In Missouri, wheelchairs are tax-free -- but parts are not

Missouri residents with limited mobility likely know that the state does not impose sales tax on wheelchairs and scooters. This exemption goes back to a statute that the state Legislature passed several years ago. However, the author of that bill recently learned that a loophole in the law could mean that people may have to pay taxes to get their mobility devices repaired.

It turns out that replacement parts for scooters and wheelchairs are not included in the tax exemption. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, this came to light when a medical supply company in Springfield underwent an audit, and learned that it should have been collecting sales tax on parts.

In a letter to the Missouri Department of Revenue, former state Rep. Pat Naeger, who authored the bill in the late 1990s, tried to get the agency to change its position. He wrote that he intended the bill to relieve disabled people who need wheelchairs and scooters to get around of the burden of paying sales tax.

In response, the Department of Revenue’s director, Nia Ray, acknowledged that Naeger meant for the law to exempt taxes on replacement parts as well as the devices themselves. But Ray said that the statute does not mention parts, and that her agency cannot infer the intent of the Legislature from the intentions of a single lawmaker. The Department of Revenue must interpret legislative intent from the text of the law, she wrote.

It appears that it will take a new bill to amend the statute, if that is what the Legislature wants to do. If nothing else, this story shows how expensive it can be to be disabled in Missouri.

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