Baker Makes Late Pitch for Summer Sales Tax Break

Gov. Charlie Baker made a last-ditch effort Wednesday to put a weekend sales tax holiday on the summer calendar, but legislative leaders quickly appeared to throw cold water on the idea.

Baker, a Republican, filed a bill that would suspend the state's 6.25 percent sales tax Aug. 19-20.

"The sales tax holiday gives consumers a much-needed break and supports business across the Commonwealth for our hardworking retailers," the governor said. "We look forward to working with the Legislature to make this important weekend possible, so the Commonwealth can shop local and make purchases tax free."

Massachusetts held sales tax holidays in all but one year from 2004 to 2015. But a slump in state revenues prompted lawmakers to forego the holiday last year, and one has not been scheduled this year despite strong support from retailers who say the tax-free weekend provides a welcome boost to generally soft summer sales.

Baker previously expressed support for reviving the sales tax holiday, but until Wednesday had not filed his own legislation or actively pushed the Democratic-controlled Legislature to consider similar bills filed earlier by Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate.

In separate statements, neither House Speaker Robert DeLeo nor Senate President Stan Rosenberg explicitly ruled out acting on the governor's bill, but both referenced the state's tenuous finances.

"Each year our hope is to hold a sales tax holiday to give our hardworking citizens and local businesses a boost, which is why the House votes consistently in favor of the sales tax holiday whenever revenues allow," the speaker said. "This year, (the state) experienced unpredicted revenue shortfalls and accordingly, the Legislature had to make significant budget cuts to programs and services."

The governor's proposal would be given a public hearing, Rosenberg said, but added, "The Commonwealth's fiscal situation has not really changed."

The House and Senate are in August recess with no formal sessions scheduled until after Labor Day. Bills can be passed during informal sessions, but under legislative rules, the objections of even a single lawmaker could stop a bill from advancing during such an informal meeting.

The state Department of Revenue has estimated the tax-free weekend costs the state $26 million in sales tax revenue it would otherwise take in, though the Retailers Association of Massachusetts has questioned those assumptions and pointed to the other economic benefits of bringing shoppers to local stores and malls on a summer weekend.

Baker filed his legislation one day after the retailers group, stung by the steady migration of consumers to online shopping, announced it would launch a ballot campaign to lower the sales tax to 5 percent or 4.5 percent and establish a permanent sales tax holiday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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