Lawmakers: Let Sellers Absorb Sales-Tax Holiday

Staff reportsiBerkshires
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LENOX, Mass. — There'll be no sales tax holiday this August but lawmakers are looking at other ways to give residents a tax break.

An attempt to resurrect the 4-year-old holiday — actually a weekend — died last week in the Legislature. The state's seen a massive drop in revenue over the past year because of the economic crisis and passed new legislation to increase the sales tax by 25 percent, up to 6.25 percent from 5 percent, to help plug a billion-dollar deficit going into the new fiscal year.

About $14.9 million in sales tax was exempted last year. There was no way a tax holiday was going to occur this year. But if sellers are willing to absorb the tax cost, why not let them, say legislators.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, was one of 50 co-sponsors last week of legislation that would allow vendors to advertise that they would pay or absorb the sales tax on purchases.

Under current law, it is illegal for vendors to advertise in this manner. Recent advertising, whether on radio, or through the print media, have been prevalent where vendors announce "We will pay your sales tax" or "Sales tax in on the house." Under Chapter 64H, Section 23 of the General Laws, a $100 fine can be assessed to the vendor for each occasion they advertise this way.

"Many vendors and business owners have approached their elected officials saying they are interested in advertising that they would be willing to pay the sales tax on purchases to entice customers which in turn would increase sales," said Pignatelli. "It shouldn't matter who pays the sales tax as long as it is paid to the commonwealth."

The legislation filed by Rep. John F. Quinn of Dartmouth would repeal Chapter 64H, Section 23. The legislation that was filed with the House Clerk also puts the responsibility on the vendors, who advertise this way, to pay the full amount of the tax due by the purchaser.

"Due to the current fiscal condition of the commonwealth, it was unfeasible to have a sales tax holiday this year," said Pignatelli. "It is our hope that this legislation will attract consumers with tax discounts on purchases that ultimately will be absorbed by the vendor."

Update: The House leadership isn't backing the bill so it's unlikely to pass in time for an August sales weekend.
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Regional Planning Commission Tackling County Housing Issue

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is taking steps to address the ever-growing problem of housing that Berkshire County faces.

"What we have been hearing and learning is that housing is becoming increasingly a problem in Berkshire County," Executive Director Tom Matuszko said at Thursday's commission meeting. "And a problem for a number of different ways and a number of different venues."

BRPC has partnered with countywide economic development organization 1Berkshire to develop a regional housing strategy, a policy that will set the stage for solutions and legislative support. The commission's former director, Nathaniel Karns has agreed to take this project on and help shepherd it through the process.

Matuszko explained that a group of planners and other housing-related entities has been formed to develop the regional strategy. This group will dive into the issue of housing in Berkshire County and brainstorm solutions whether it be a legislative fix, additional funding, or another programmatic element from the state government.

This initiative is not just about affordable or subsidized housing, Matuszko said, because you have to have higher-end housing for those in the applicable income bracket to move into, which then frees up more affordable housing for another group.

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