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Tennessee expands sales tax holiday to restaurant food and drink

  • Jun 19, 2020 | Gail Cole


Update 7.6.2020: The economic nexus threshold changes from $500,000 to $100,000 effective October 1, 2020. There is no transactions threshold. Additionally, Tennessee is providing a second sales tax holiday July 31 through August 2, 2020. See SB 2932 for more details.

Restaurant food and drink will be exempt from sales tax during Tennessee’s 2020 sales tax holiday, which runs July 31 through August 2. This is a one-time extension of the tax-free period that ordinarily only applies to certain clothing, computers, and school supplies.

Early today, the Tennessee General Assembly approved a budget shaving $1 billion from the budget proposed by Governor Bill Lee back in February — before nonessential businesses were temporarily shuttered or restricted to help contain the coronavirus (COVID-19). Like other brick-and-mortar stores, restaurants were particularly hard hit; they were limited to takeout and delivery service for almost a month, until the governor eased restrictions on in-house dining in late April. Capacity restrictions were lifted in mid-May.

Sales tax collections in April and May were down year-over-year in Tennessee, as in most other states. Recent months have also seen drops in business tax, franchise and excise tax, gasoline and motor fuel tax, mixed drinks tax, and tobacco tax revenues, among others.

With less money coming in, the government has less money to spend. Proposed pay increases for state employees and teachers were therefore scrubbed. Why, then, would lawmakers expand the sales tax holiday to restaurant food and drink? The annual sales tax holiday typically takes a $10 million bite out of sales tax collections.

In fact, cutting the holiday was considered. But consumers like them. With Tennessee experiencing the “highest unemployment rate in a generation” because of COVID-19, eliminating the popular sales tax holiday would have been an unpopular move.

Proposed sales tax holidays that didn’t make the final cut

Like the approved budget bill, SB 2932 sought to exempt sales of restaurant food and drink during the July 31–August 2 sales tax holiday. It also proposed a new sales tax holiday for motor vehicles over Labor Day weekend.

And back when the state was feeling flush (before the outbreak of the coronavirus), there was strong support in the Tennessee House for a “Food Tax Holiday.” HB 1697 sought to exempt the retail sale of food and food ingredients from state sales tax during the months of June and July 2020.

Neither proposal made it into the budget adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly on the morning of June 19, 2020.

Proposed change to economic nexus threshold

Update 7.6.2020: The economic nexus threshold changes from $500,000 to $100,000 effective October 1, 2020. There is no transactions threshold.

Another change proposed in SB 2932 would increase sales tax collections by requiring more out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax.

Under current law, out-of-state sellers must register to collect Tennessee sales tax if they had more than $500,000 in taxable or exempt sales of goods or services for delivery into the state during the previous 12-month period. The $500,000 threshold is among the highest in the country, shared only by the large states of California, New York, and Texas.

SB 2932 would lower that sales threshold considerably and add a transactions threshold, so that remote retailers with more than $100,000 in sales or at least 200 transactions would have a sales tax collection requirement. 

As of June 24, 2020, the proposed change to the economic nexus threshold has not been signed into law. A similar proposal introduced in 2019 (SB 82/HB 733) failed to make it out of committee.

Think you may have an obligation to collect and remit sales tax in Tennessee under the current economic nexus law? This free sales tax risk assessment can help you find out.

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Sales tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail Cole is a Senior Writer at Avalara. She’s on a mission to uncover unusual tax facts and make complex laws and legislation more digestible for accounting and business professionals.