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Rick Dungey, public relations manager for the National Christmas Tree Association, would like to clarify a few things regarding the “Obama Christmas tree tax.” He said:
1. It has nothing to do with President Obama.
2. It’s not a tax.
3. It’s not expected to have an impact on the price of Christmas trees.
Oh, and it’s not even NCTA’s program. Regardless, the group had become the go-to organization for information - and complaints - on the issue.
Here’s what happened: On Nov. 8 a report went viral on the Internet that said the Obama administration created a 15-cent tax on live Christmas trees to fund a program to promote buying live Christmas trees. Soon, NCTA was getting lots of calls from angry people, and from media seeking information and comment.
Dungey said the program in question will work like many other “checkoff programs” created under the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act: an industry collects money through the US Agriculture Department from within its own industry. In this instance, that’s 15 cents a tree from tree growers. The money will be used to create messages promoting the industry. Examples include “Got milk?” and “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.”
The idea for a checkoff program for tree growers took root three and a half years ago, before President Obama came into office, Dungey said, though the program was requested by the industry in 2009. The idea came from a group of tree farmers and retailers, not the association, but the NCTA board voted to support it. Also, Dungey does not know why it took USDA this long to announce the program.
“People think it’s the government doing this to people. It’s the [tree] farmers who asked the USDA to do this. They want to increase sales, they want to sell more trees,” Dungey said. Exemptions, including an opt-out, are available to tree farmers under the plan.
After the article went viral, Dungey spent most of the day answering calls and emails, as well as Tweeting and posting a position statement on the NCTA website and Facebook page. It didn’t help that power went out at NCTA headquarters for about an hour.
“The funny part is, NCTA is not even the petitioner” for the program, he said. [Editor’s note: A network news website reported USDA has delayed implementation of the program, but Dungey had not heard this from USDA as of deadline. UPDATE, NOV. 17 - The fee has been suspended indefinitely, according to media reports quoting a USDA statement in the Nov. 17 Federal Register.]
This isn’t the first time the National Christmas Tree Association has had to clarify information that it did not originate. A few years back, a local TV station reported that an expert advised pouring vodka into the tree stand to extend the life of a live Christmas tree. The expert, Dungey said, turned out to be a dentist.
“What kind of a news outlet quotes a dentist on taking care of a tree? I had to put out a consumer alert that this is dangerous to a tree and actually does the opposite,” he said.
But Dungey has a philosophy for such situations: “Work with the news media to try to be a trusted source of good, solid information. I’m a firm believer of just being a good source, they’ll come back to you.”
By the way, NCTA has supplied the White House Christmas tree for more than 40 years.