In an odd twist of logic, the conservative Heritage Foundation has told a business it can’t charge its customers more. The group, which touts free enterprise and criticizes government for “picking winners and losers” with regulations that target specific businesses, had no problem recently telling Christmas tree growers that they couldn’t add 15 cents to the cost of the holiday decoration because it was a tax. Never mind that the growers wanted the assessment. Never mind that the growers proposed the assessment to help their industry.

A tax is a tax and it is bad, according to the group.

And, of course, the conservative group blamed President Barack Obama for the “Christmas tree tax” even though he had nothing to do with it. Worse, the Obama administration was scared off by the false logic and delayed the surcharge.

If growers want a small assessment on their product to pay for a promotional campaign, in the name of free enterprise, they should be welcome to do it.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fresh-tree sales declined from 37 million in 1991 to 31 million in 2007. Artificial tree sales, however, nearly doubled from 2003 to 2007 to 17.4 million.

To combat this trend, the National Christmas Tree Association decided to begin a promotional campaign to explain that fresh trees aren’t hazardous or bad for the environment.

To pay for the campaign, they proposed a checkoff program. As proposed, Christmas tree farmers who sell more than 500 trees would pay a mandatory assessment of 15 cents a tree toward a new marketing and promotion program. This would be overseen by USDA but by design would not involve taxpayer or government funds.

This year, the USDA held a long open comment period for the proposed checkoff program, which growers supported 3-to-1, according to Jim Corliss, president of the Maine Christmas Tree Association and owner of Piper Mountain Christmas Trees in Newburgh.

On Nov. 8, the final ruling to establish a Christmas tree checkoff program was published in the Federal Register, the compendium of new and proposed federal rules.

The same day, David Addington, who writes for The Foundry, a policy news blog for The Heritage Foundation, posted an item titled: “Obama Couldn’t Wait: His New Christmas Tree Tax.” Mr. Addington wrote that the president would impose a 15 cent tax on all fresh Christmas trees to support a new federal image and marketing program.

“The economy is barely growing and nine percent of the American people have no jobs. Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do?” Addington wrote. “And, by the way, the American Christmas tree has a great image that doesn’t need any help from the government.”

“The Heritage Foundation advertises itself as being for small business, for the entrepreneur, for small enterprise. This time, they got it wrong,” said Mr. Corliss.

Pathetically, the Obama administration caved to the foolishness and pulled the proposed surcharge on Nov. 10, so it could evaluate it more. Too bad the administration, like so many others, didn’t take the time to get the facts before making this decision.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center did and broke ranks with its national counterpart.

The group’s director, Lance Dutson, said that if a group of tree farmers wanted to work together to promote their product, that sounded like free enterprise to him.

“Obviously, they should be allowed to do that,” he said.

Not so obviously, apparently.