Shoppers, There's Officially No Sales Tax Holiday In Mass. This Summer — Again

In this Aug. 21, 2015 photo, shoppers ride an escalator beside a special one for shopping carts in the CityTarget store in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
In this Aug. 21, 2015 photo, shoppers ride an escalator beside a special one for shopping carts in the CityTarget store in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Consumers will get no break on the sales tax from the state of Massachusetts this summer, as lawmakers opt for the second year in a row to forego a tax holiday weekend.

Revenue Committee Chairman Jay Kaufman confirmed that August will pass without what has been in recent years a tradition of suspending the sales tax for one weekend.

"I would say that's certain. I don't see how there could be one since there's no possibility of us having a hearing and a session to vote for one, so there will be no sales tax holiday this year," Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, told the News Service Monday.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg had strongly indicated the sales tax holiday was not on their agenda after Gov. Charlie Baker tried to revive the issue last week by filing his own sales tax holiday legislation.

After lawmakers adjourned their final formal sessions of the summer in late July without taking up a sales tax holiday bill, Baker last Wednesday filed a bill to suspend the 6.25 percent tax on purchases under $2,500 the weekend of Aug. 19-20.

"We've heard from a lot of folks who said to us that this is really important to them," Baker said in a WBZ NewsRadio interview last week. "It's important to downtowns, it's important to main streets, and we just think it's the right thing to do."

Lawmakers left Beacon Hill with sales tax holiday bills idling in committees and Baker, by filing his bill after lawmaker recessed, was apparently counting on legislators being able to pass his controversial bill in informal sessions, which is unlikely since some lawmakers strongly oppose the idea.

Baker filed his bill on the same day that he signed new temporary assessments on employers that critics have labeled a new tax. The assessments are part of a new state budget that will also not deliver a Jan. 1 income tax reduction that lawmakers just a few months ago believed was inevitable.

DeLeo said it made "little sense" for the governor to file a new sales tax holiday bill when other similar bills were already pending before committee, and Rosenberg said he would wait for the recommendations from the committee.

The House and Senate referred the governor's bill (H 3871) to the Revenue Committee, which may not hold a public hearing on it until September.

"Sales tax holidays under any circumstances are a mistake, and under these circumstances are a colossal mistake," Kaufman said last week.

On Monday Kaufman said there are no immediate plans to hold a hearing on the bill.

Kaufman said, "Since it's a proposal for a sales tax holiday, what, 10 days from now, it was sort of not timely filed."

Baker is on a staycation this week in Massachusetts.

Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, a Taunton Republican, suggested there is a double-standard.

Lawmakers this session quickly passed a hefty pay package for themselves, even though state finances were questionable at the beginning of the year, too.

"They can afford to give these huge pay raises, but they can't afford to give the taxpayers just a small little break once a year that they really look forward to and that really stimulates the economy, gets people out shopping," O'Connell told Boston Herald Radio. She said, "I hope people aren't going to forget about this when it comes election time."

Chris Dempsey, director of Transportation for Massachusetts, debated the sales tax holiday on Greater Boston Monday with Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

Rather than providing a major stimulus, Dempsey said the holiday only "shifts purchases around" and doesn't create "a lot of new spending."

Hurst said the holiday is a "life preserver" for business that have a "six and a quarter percent anchor around their neck."

Retailers this month filed potential 2018 ballot questions with the goal of both reducing the sales tax and making the sales tax holidy weekend permanent.

Michael P. Norton contributed reporting



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