Senator puts her foot down, says shoe tax no longer needed

WASHINGTON — U.S. consumers would see a sharp drop in the price of imported shoes — and that's nearly all shoes sold in the United States — if a bipartisan group of senators is successful in stamping out the nation's "shoe tax."

"It is kind of a hidden tax, and getting rid of it would be nice to do," Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said Wednesday.

Cantwell has teamed with Sen. Patty Murray, also D-Wash., and Republican Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Pat Roberts of Kansas to promote the Affordable Footwear Act, which would eliminate roughly half the duties on imported shoes.

Cantwell, the measure's chief sponsor, said consumers are paying a tax of up to 40 percent in some cases. Backers said the legislation would lead to more sales for retailers and more savings for consumers.

The bill has no opposition yet and is a hit with the shoe industry. Last year, it would have eliminated $800 million of the $2 billion collected on imported children's and low-cost shoes.

"It would be fantastic. ... It would allow (consumers) to buy a second pair or buy a pair that they normally would have to put off another month," said Bill Snowden, a shoe distributor from Bellevue, Wash., and the senior vice president of Topline, which employs 100 people.

The shoe tax, which dates to the 1930s, originally was aimed at protecting a manufacturing sector that has all but disappeared in the United States, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association, a national trade organization.

While tariffs on different shoes vary, they might result in a $15 pair of shoes selling for as much as $25, Snowden said.

In past years, Snowden said, it's been difficult to get members of Congress to focus on shoes, given their preoccupation with war, the economy and other big issues of the day. Even though the legislation has stalled, Snowden said it has won support from many Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress.

"There have been so many other major, major pressing issues ... that it gets bypassed, unfortunately," he said.

Cantwell said that could happen again this year.