Although the Massachusetts Sales Tax has been in operation for nearly one month, state authorities have still failed to discover an adequate method of exempting required textbooks from the tax. The existing system of mimeographed forms signed by students and counter-signed by instructors is absurdly awkward. The forms insure that only "required" textbooks are exempted from the tax. The cost of processing those mounds of paper will surely exceed the revenues which the state would lose without this control. And one can only shudder at the thought of the confusion which will take place at every cash-register at every bookstore in Cambridge when the next semester begins.
A far more sensible and efficient system would permit all students, upon display of student identification, to avoid the tax while purchasing books in general. The distinction between "required" and "non-required" books is silly; students should be encouraged to read as widely as possible. Books needed for research or for audited courses do not fit the "required" category, yet students deciding on the margin whether or not to purchase such books not be discouraged from doing so.
This proposed ammendment on book sales would exempt only students; other persons buying books would continue to pay the tax. The state needs funds badly and the sales tax remains the best foreseeable way to raise them. The legislators have already recognized the necessity of exempting required textbooks, but any system of enforcing such a limited exemption will prove far too costly and cumbersome. In any event, the loss of revenue which the state would experience under a blanket exemption of student book sales is hardly worth quibbling about.
The Massachusetts legislature, as usual, will need considerable prodding before it corrects this situation. Student pressure alone will never sway that august body. Since the processing of forms will become a significant burden for the University, the Harvard Administration should initiate a drive among educational institutions throughout the state to petition the legislature for an amendment to the law. Now that the sales tax has been enacted, we hope that the legislators will make the minor adjustments necessary for the smooth operation of the tax.