By Scott Booth and Prentiss Willson

The Vermont Supreme Court held that coupon books distributed monthly, within a free weekly newspaper and also separately distributed on news racks, were not “component parts” of the newspaper, and thus were not exempt from Vermont sales and use tax as newspapers. Vermont exempts newspapers and tangible personal property that becomes an ingredient or “component part” of the newspaper from the sales and use tax. While “component part” is not defined in the sales and use tax law, the Commissioner of Taxes relied heavily on Hannaford Bros. Co. v. Dep’t of Taxes, 547 A.2d 1353-55 (Vt. 1988), which held that preprinted advertising supplements, inserted into newspapers to advertise the products and prices of a third-party grocery chain, were not integral components of the newspapers. Noting that the coupons would not be taxable if included in the pages of the newspaper itself, the Commissioner concluded that “the taxpayer’s choice of format and method of distribution results in a taxable event.” Further, because the coupon books did not include any news content, did not typically command their own following, and were not separately indexed sections of the newspaper, the Commissioner concluded they were not component parts of the newspaper. The Vermont Supreme Court deferred to the Commissioner’s decision, finding no “compelling indication of error” in the decision. Vermont joins the growing list of states narrowly construing their sales tax exemptions and giving significant deference to the state tax agency’s findings given the “experience and expertise of the agency.” World Publications, Inc. v. Vermont Dep’t of Taxes, 2012 Vt. 78 (Nov. 2, 2012).