Flush state can afford extended sales-tax break – Lowell Sun

The Legislature on Monday designated Aug. 13 and 14 for this year’s sales tax holiday weekend, which gives shoppers a 6.25% price break on most retail items up to $ 2,500.

Shoppers should check out the section on the mass.gov website that presents a comprehensive picture of what this holiday entails.

The annual sales-tax-free weekend was made permanent by a 2018 law, which calls for the Legislature to set the dates by June 15 each year.

In agreeing to that “grand bargain” legislation, retailers dropped efforts for a ballot question lowering the 6.25% sales tax to 5%. It also raised the minimum wage from $ 11 to $ 15 an hour over a five-year period, phased out time- and-a-half pay for workers on Sundays and holidays over that same time frame, and established a paid family and medical leave program overseen by the state, backed by a payroll tax.

Given the soaring costs of just about everything and legislators’ supposed intention to give Massachusetts residents some measure of tax relief, one Republican senator asked the obvious question: why not suspend the sales tax, not for two days, but two months?

That’s what Minority Leader Bruce Tarr posed to his predominantly Democrat colleagues.

“While we are here to at least accomplish two days of sales tax relief, I would hope with the remaining time in this session that we would consider still expanding this sales tax holiday,” Tarr said, “as one of the best ways to be able to give tax relief to the citizens of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. ”

If that request sounds familiar, it’s because another prominent Massachusetts Republican floated the same idea last summer, when gasoline cost about $ 2 less a gallon than it does now.

But Gov. Charlie Baker’s grandiose plan for a two-month sales-tax reprieve didn’t happen.

The governor had hoped to use about $ 900 million of the state’s budget surplus to offset the lost sales tax revenue in August and September, but he couldn’t sell his gift to the commonwealth’s COVID-whiplashed retailers and consumers to the Democrat-dominated lawmakers on Beacon Hill.

Baker’s only State House allies came almost exclusively from his own political party, most notably then state Rep. Sheila Harrington. The Groton Republican was one of more than 30 legislators to urge an airing of “An Act Establishing an Extended Sales Tax Holiday in 2021” as soon as possible.

Like the governor, Harrington and those other legislators saw the two-month sales-tax break as a way to support small businesses and boost the local economy — and for residents to spend less on purchases.

Little did Baker and Harrington realize how much worse the continued supply-chain problems and inflationary pressures would become a year later.

The commonwealth’s robust tax collections appear to be the only economic engine not sputtering, which means the state can more than afford to offer the kind of boost a two-month respite from the sales tax would give.

By agreeing to suspend the sales tax for two months, the Legislature would also indirectly enact some semblance of a gasoline-tax break, something it refused to do earlier.

With no sales tax, Massachusetts residents won’t need to travel over the border to sales-tax-free New Hampshire — at least for items not exceeding $ 2,500 — during those two months.

And buying local means driving fewer miles — a savings of both time and money.

There can be little debate about the positive impact two sales-tax free months would provide — for both buyers and sellers.

If there’s ever time for lawmakers to give their constituents a tangible economic lift, it’s now.

Prove it by passing a two-month sales-tax holiday.

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