and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
August 2004 #3

Sales tax holiday: Thanks, but no thanks
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, August 18, 2004

What could be more important to a taxpayer activist than a sales tax holiday?

As it turned out, lots of things. A farmerís market. A picnic. A hurricane. A nap. The Olympics.

I marked August 14th on my calendar last year, when the Massachusetts sales tax holiday passed as part of an "economic stimulus" bill. I would save as many purchases as possible until then. I started a list.

It wasnít much of a list: I have everything I need in the category of "affordable with or without a sales tax," and am at the age when I am trying to simplify my life by getting rid of things, not further accumulating. But I figured by August Iíd be out of shampoo and trash bags.

In March I killed my television. I over-watered a plant that, in hindsight, shouldnít have been hanging over an electrical appliance. I could have watched the little TV in my office til August, but it couldnít record cartoons for the grandchildren, or play the videos their parents send. Also, since Iíve noticed over the years that the marketplace is in a conspiracy to discontinue items that I like, I was afraid that by summer it might no longer be possible to find televisions that have built-in VCR instead of DVD.

So I bought a 20" Broksonic, with built-in VCR and DVD, put it under a shelf to protect it from dummies, and am television-set for the rest of my life. Paid the $15.00 sales tax.

Late in July, I found an item in the Sharper Image catalog that I might want to buy August 14th as an early Christmas gift: a Phone Video Station for $499.95, sales tax savings, $24.77. I could put one unit in my house and the other in Nevada, and see my grandchildren anytime for a little more than the price of one airline ticket.

I called the Burlington store Friday night for information, and learned that we should have analog phones, and that itís good to have high speed internet. I have no idea if I have an analog or a digital phone (I use my fingers to push the buttons, does that mean anything?) and I know my son has very iffy dial-up; I decided that this would not be a good impulse buy.

So my sales tax holiday would be celebrated at just my little local mall. But first there was my usual Saturday morning trip to the farmer's market down the street, where I get blueberries and salad fixings. At noon I went to the Marblehead Republican Town Committee picnic, where I saw old friends and successfully bid on a Rush Limbaugh "Charter Member of the Vast Right-Wing conspiracy" mug at the auction. Iíve always wanted one of those.

Went home to get my coupons for usually sales-taxable items at the drugstore and grocery store, and while I was there had to watch the hurricane news to check on Florida relatives and get a forecast for my partner Chip, whoís on a Maine coast sailing vacation. Then I decided to take a little nap, which I needed because Iíd been up til the wee hours clipping said coupons from the pile of newspaper inserts that have accumulated for weeks. OK, months.

When I woke up, I had only TWO HOURS to shop before I had to be home to tape Olympic gymnastics and bike racing for my sonís family, which doesnít have television, just a VCR machine. But I donít know how to program my new VCR and besides, I have to be physically there to choose the events and tape around the commercials; no point in letting the grandtwinsí first commercials be for Budweiser Light, though I myself love that Clydesdale colt ad.

Got to the Vinnin Square mall, and discovered Iíd forgotten my coupons. No time to go back; shop shop shop. Sony tapes, shampoo, cosmetics: drugstore purchases always add up to a surprising total. Saved $4.00! On to Stop and Shop, fill the cart with paper towels, cat litter, cat, bird, and squirrel food; never mind the trash bags, the missing coupon is worth more than 5 percent. Savings, $2.50. Half an hour left to stop at the photo store, get frames and albums: savings $1.90. Total savings, $8.40.

A friendís daughter bought a sofa for her Cambridge apartment, though she told her mother that the sales tax holiday was a "gift" from Mayor Menino for the inconvenience city residents experienced from the Democrat Convention. She wasnít the only one who was confused; one person I know bought clothes, not realizing that inexpensive clothing is never subject to the sale tax. Others bought expensive televisions, not realizing that items over $2500 were exempt from the sales tax holiday.

Thanks, Legislature. My savings was a couple hundred short of what you owe me from the income tax rollback that you froze. And it was, I have to tell you, more trouble than it was worth to me. Hope it was worth something to merchants, that some of them sold things to people who wouldnít have bought them anyhow on another day.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.