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July 2, 2014

With different dates, tax holiday timing up in air

BOSTON - Shoppers looking for a break from the Massachusetts state sale tax will have to wait to find out which weekend in August lawmakers settle on for the annual tax holiday.

The Senate passed legislation yesterday making Aug. 9-10 sales tax-free. House lawmakers last month voted to establish August 16-17 as the sales tax holiday this year. Retailers say the sales tax holiday boosts sales during an often slow period, but some critics say it only postpones purchases and does nothing to help economic development.

Before the Senate adopted the holiday as part of an economic development bill, Sen. Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat, called it bad economic policy. “We have better uses for $25 million that would be a real investment, and really lead to economic growth,” she said.

The tax holiday amendment passed 31 to 8. Sen. James Timilty (D-Walpole), one of the amendment’s sponsors, said every time the state foregoes sales tax for one weekend, “all the parking lots and all the aisles are full,” and stores are fully staffed with employees. In 2013, an estimated $24.6 million in sales tax revenue went uncollected over the two days that the tax was suspended.

Sen. Bruce Tarr, a Republican from Gloucester who co-sponsored the amendment, joked about the nearly annual shopping rite being the state’s worst kept secret. By proposing different weekends this year, lawmakers are so far fostering some suspense this year over exactly when the holiday will fall.

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