Danny Chan La, Deseret Morning News
Student leaders for Utah colleges and universities attend a press conference about tax-free textbooks.

Textbooks have just gotten cheaper at Utah's public college and university campus bookstores.

Thanks to collaborative efforts by the Utah State Tax Commission and the student-run Coalition of Higher Education for Affordable Textbooks, a tax exemption has been allowed for all textbook purchases at campus bookstores — effective as soon as the individual bookstores can prove they carry nonprofit status with the IRS.

"This has been a year in coming and we were hit by challenges left and right," said Marko Mijic, government relations director for the Associated Students at the University of Utah. Prior to the legislative session, the coalition had hoped to draft a bill, but Mijic said all it took was some clarification in existing tax law.

"It shows the student body that the state is making a strong movement for higher education," he said.

For some students, a single semester's load of courses could rack up the book bill as much as $900. With the new exemption on textbooks, students could save up to $60 on those books.

"That's money for rent, food and gas," Mijic said. "This means students can graduate faster and we can turn out more graduates more quickly into the workforce."

The exemption would save students as much as $4.7 million annually, which would result from revenue not collected at the bookstores, said Charlie Roberts, spokesman for the Utah State Tax Commission. He said independent bookstores and bookstores at private colleges do not qualify for the exemption.

Bookstores must be able to prove they hold a 501(c)(3) designation from the IRS in order to cancel out the tax they charge to students. Only textbooks qualify for the exemption, not other supplies used for classes.

Institutions of higher education qualify as government agencies because they are funded by public money and internally, the campus bookstores hold a nonprofit title, which means they can exempt anything that goes toward the mission of the institution.

"You still have to pay tax on that Sports Illustrated or the golf shirt you buy in the bookstore," Roberts said. However, he said the money saved on textbook tax could add up.

Students from all 10 of Utah's public colleges and universities gathered on Capitol Hill Wednesday to rally in support of the recent approval. They've been actively writing state leaders, having open discussions in class and for the most part, feel the updated exemption status is a great accomplishment, Mijic said.

The exemption will go into effect April 1 at the U. Mijic said before the summer is over, he hopes all students at qualifying state schools will be able to reap the rewards of saving a little extra cash.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com