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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Louisiana revenue department said it is stepping up its checks of convenience and grocery stores to make sure they are not illegally charging state sales tax on food, a tax that was supposed to have been eliminated two years ago, the La.-based DeRidder Beauregard Daily News reported.
Revenue officials are planning to audit more tax receipts from stores selling the food items now exempt from state sales tax and are sending more instructional materials to the stores about the tax changes.
If stores still refuse to stop charging the tax, Revenue Secretary Cynthia Bridges said the department will revoke their alcohol sales permits, the report stated.
''We're going to be in their face more often. We're going to be looking at and reviewing their records,'' Bridges said.
Stores were supposed to stop charging the state's sales tax on the food items including candy bars, milk and canned soft drinks on July 1, 2003. The 4 percent tax could still be charged on lunch plates, beer, fountain drinks, bottled water and hot coffee, items not deemed for ''home consumption'' under the constitutional provision.
The tax change stems from the Stelly Plan, which did away with state sales tax on food ''for home consumption'' and residential utilities, in exchange for greater income taxes for taxpayers higher up the income ladder.
Bridges said it's hard to determine how many stores are overcharging, or if the problem is more prevalent in one area of the state.
She said the overcharging seems more common at small, locally owned convenience stores and mom-and-pop grocery stores that aren't connected to large computer systems where tax changes can be made quickly for all stores. She said some surveys indicate about one-third of the convenience stores in Louisiana aren't following the law.
Bridges said she doesn't think most of the stores are collecting the wrong tax just to pocket the extra cash. She said the owners simply don't seem educated enough about the tax repeal and that's why the department is sending out cards for cash registers that outline what items are exempt from state sales tax and planning seminars about the tax guidelines.