Massachusetts was on track for another sales tax holiday in August despite concerns from several lawmakers that the two-day suspension of the state's 6.25 percent tax was little more than a gimmick that benefits large retailers while costing the state valuable revenue.
The House voted 136-20 Wednesday to hold the holiday on the weekend of Aug. 15-16, followed by a Senate vote of 27-11 for the measure.
Routine enactment votes are needed before the measure is sent to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk, likely on Thursday. Baker has indicated his willingness to sign the bill if it reaches his desk, noting the holiday is something consumers have come to expect.
The state has held a sales tax holiday in 10 of the last 11 years.
"It's pro-Main Street, it's pro-consumer, it's pro-retailer," said Rep. Paul McMurtry, a Democrat from Dedham and small business owner who was one of several lawmakers who argued for passage.
Backers contend the holiday offer stores a boost during a normally slow sales period in the summer and is welcomed by shoppers, especially those preparing their children for a new school year. They said retailers also bring in more employees to handle the weekend crowds, increasing wages for part-time workers.
Supporters conceded that Massachusetts foregoes about $25 million in taxes that might otherwise be collected on the purchases, but argued the benefits outweigh the lost revenue.
Critics, however, pointed to studies that suggested the tax holiday, while highly popular among shoppers and retailers, offered little for the state's overall economy and largely helped "big box" national retailers, some of whom had begun advertising for the anticipated holiday even before it was approved by the Legislature.
Rep. Alan Silvia, a Fall River Democrat, said the revenue the state foregoes could be put to better use on education and programs to help low-income residents.
"The people in my district are not concerned about 6 percent off a refrigerator; they're concerned about filling a refrigerator," said Silvia.
Sen. Bruce Tarr, the Senate Republican leader from Gloucester, unsuccessfully pushed for an amendment that would make the sales tax holiday a permanent fixture, rather than keep consumers in suspense each year as to whether the Legislature will again sign off.
"It is more the norm than the exception," said Tarr.
The sales tax would remain in effect during the holiday for cigarettes and big-ticket purchases, such as cars and motorboats, and any item costing more than $2,500.
Food and most clothing are already exempt from the Massachusetts sales tax.