It's Not Etched in Stone that Sales-Tax-Free Weekends Be Held Only in August

Monday, August 21, 2017

This comes as no surprise to the people I work with (nor to my wife) but I was dead damn wrong in my last post, “Guv’s Sales Tax Holiday Bill Looks D.O.A.  Appearances Are Deceiving,” 8-6-17.

I thought Charlie Baker must have set everything up with legislative leaders before filing a last-minute bill August 2 to have a sales tax holiday the weekend of August 19-20.
I believed that despite the immediate negative reaction to the bill from an important House committee chairman, Revenue’s Jay Kaufman, who said it would be a “colossal mistake” to have a sales tax holiday this year.

I figured our governor must have quietly secured support for the idea from House Speaker Bob DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg before the filing and that Kaufman must have been out of the loop. I figured wrong.  Kaufman was most definitely in the loop. 
I’m not sure where Baker was.

This past Thursday brought the last possible opportunity for Baker’s sales tax holiday to be enacted. The last informal sessions of the House and Senate prior to the hoped-for event were held that day and the sales tax holiday wasn’t even mentioned.
I have to admit, almost as soon as I posted “…Appearances Are Deceiving,” I started second guessing myself.

Second guessing turned to serious worrying on Tuesday, August 8, when Chairman Kaufman declared he was “certain” there would be no sales tax holiday this year.
And when Friday, August 11, came and went without any action on the bill, I knew I had blown it.

What would be the point of scheduling a sales tax holiday weekend without there being at least one full week to promote it?  
So, if Baker did not have a solid plan in place for the sales tax holiday on August 2, why did he plunge ahead with the bill? 

One can say he did it as a sop to the retailers of Massachusetts, and to the business community as a whole, which is unhappy with him over his failure to persuade the legislature to adopt reforms to the Medicaid program a few weeks ago as part of a state budget that includes new assessments on businesses.
If this conjecture is valid, Baker filed the bill knowing it had no chance but at least comfortable knowing he could lay its failure on the legislature.  A cynical approach like that, however, would mark a big philosophical change in the Baker administration, which puts a premium on dealing sincerely with legislators and not posturing at their expense.

Around the office, I call Charlie Baker “our Eagle Scout governor” because he’s always about solving problems and his eagerness to take on challenges has a refreshingly boyish aspect to it. So I’m going with a simple interpretation of these events:
Baker filed the sales tax holiday bill recognizing that (a) he could not pull it off in August, the time when it has traditionally been held, and (b) he might be able to build a legislative consensus for the holiday sometime later in the year.  There’s no reason why we couldn’t have a sales tax holiday over the Columbus Day weekend, for example, is there? 

Though disappointed it wasn’t held in August, as it has been in 11 of the previous 13 years, retailers would rather see a sales-tax-free weekend happen later than not at all.




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