Retailers Group to Propose Ballot Questions on Sales Tax

An organization representing thousands of retailers in Massachusetts said Tuesday it would pursue a ballot campaign asking voters to reduce the state's 6.25 percent sales tax and possibly establish a permanent summer sales tax holiday.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts announced it would file several versions of a proposed 2018 ballot question ahead of Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadline for submitting initiative petitions to the state attorney general.

The group has repeatedly expressed concern about the impact of online shopping on traditional brick and mortar businesses, especially smaller retailers, and the ability of Massachusetts residents to shop tax free in neighboring New Hampshire.

"Reducing the state sales tax will help small business remain competitive, while also putting money back in the pockets of those who need it most, including seniors on fixed incomes and working class families," said Jon Hurst, president of the retailers association, in a statement.

Hurst has been critical of state lawmakers for not voting on legislation to suspend the state sales tax for one weekend this month. Barring any last-minute developments, it would mark the second year in a row the Legislature has foregone an August sales tax holiday, popular with retailers and shoppers alike, largely because of the state's tenuous fiscal condition.

The association had been polling its members in recent weeks to gauge support for a possible ballot initiative. It said Tuesday that four versions of the proposed question would be filed:

_ Reducing the sales to 5 percent;


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_ Reducing the sales tax to 5 percent and establishing a permanent August sales tax holiday;

_ Reducing the sales tax to 4.5 percent;

_ Reducing the sales to 4.5 percent and establishing a permanent August sales tax holiday.

If certified by Attorney General Maura Healey, who reviews initiative petitions to assure they meet constitutional guidelines, Hurst said his group would hold further talks with members and "stakeholders" to decide which of the four questions it would pursue.

Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said the retailers should explain to voters how they would make up for the lost revenue or cut the state budget if voters lower the tax.

"This proposal is simply to provide a tax cut with no clarity as to where the money would come from," said Berger.

Should a sales tax question reach the November 2018 ballot, it likely would appear alongside a proposed constitutional amendment imposing a 4 percent surtax on annual incomes above $1 million. That would create a scenario in which voters could raise tax revenue through one measure while lowering it through another.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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