By Al Norman
I was not one of the thousands of Massachusetts shoppers prowling the retail aisles on Aug. 11 and 12 looking to avoid the state sales tax. It was a “tax holiday” for some people — but I stayed home that weekend, and let me tell you why.
The “sales tax holiday” in mid August was estimated to cost the state $20 million in lost revenues, at a time when 2,000 seniors are unable to get home care because of revenue shortages. $20 million is enough money to give 6,250 elders home care for an entire year.
When he was signing the state budget on July 8, Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters, “Let me also answer one of the questions I am almost always asked on these occasions, and that is about a sales tax holiday this summer. I intend to support a sales tax holiday this August and will propose a way to pay for it that doesn’t put any more pressure on an already tight Fiscal ’13 budget.” The governor’s office indicted that Patrick planned to use an estimated $20 million in one-time settlement money to support an August sales tax holiday.”
The fact remains, the governor could not find enough money in the budget to end the waiting list in the elderly home care program. He recommended no new funding for home care, and as a result — 2,000 elders were on a home care waiting list the day Gov. Patrick announced his support for the sale tax give away.
Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, told reporters that while it was good Patrick had $20 million in settlement money, the tax holiday still would be costing revenues that could be better spent on education and human services. Or maybe to end the home care wait list. “It comes down to a choice,” Widmer concluded. “How do you spend $20 million?” The governor and the General Court made the wrong choice.
Widmer described the tax break as a gimmick and public relations ploy. It was approved by the House and Senate, because what lawmaker doesn’t like to return to the district telling his constituents he just cut their taxes?
In July of 2008, Gov. Patrick signed a sales tax holiday claiming, “We hope it stimulates all sorts of sales activity during what is otherwise a slow time of year.” Two years later, he signed a similar sales tax holiday bill, promising “it will give individuals, families and businesses the immediate economic boost we so critically need.” But studies suggest there is no “economic boost” from the tax holiday, and that most people just delay their purchases until the holiday rolls around.
State Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, voted against the tax holiday. “This is not job creation,” she told me, “not economic development. Not a single job, no economic improvement will be created … This year particularly retail doesn’t need it: Retailers project increase in back-to-school spending of 21 percent over last year. Customers don’t necessarily save: there’s evidence that retailers offer smaller discounts that weekend. Tax breaks are spending. We could spend that money better, get more job creation and more benefit for residents.” On the Senate floor, Jehlen told her colleagues, “Aren’t there better ways to spend $20 million. Twenty million dollars would allow us to have no wait list in the elderly home care program.”
I made my choice. I bought nothing on sales tax holiday weekend, and if this “holiday” comes around next year, I hope you will ignore it also. Instead, make up some holiday, and invite an elderly neighbor over for lunch to celebrate it.
Al Norman is the executive director of Mass Home Care. He can be reached at 978-502-3794, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.