South

THE ARGUMENT

Should the state lower its sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent?

YES

Jack Doherty

Owner/president of College Hype, a screenprinting and embroidery company with locations in Weymouth and Dorchester

Handout
Jack Doherty

The Massachusetts Legislature does not appear inclined to lower the state sales tax. So a citizen petition effort is being made to bring the issue before voters. The Massachusetts Association of Retailers is pursuing a ballot initiative that would ask voters in November whether to reduce the tax from its present level of 6.25 percent to 5 percent.

This is a proposal we should all get behind.

It is not unreasonable to ask that the sales tax be returned to 5 percent, its level in 2009. There are several reasons why this makes sense. Massachusetts retailers face stiff competition from nearby New Hampshire, which has no sales tax, and whose marketing efforts occasionally take jabs at its neighbor to the south with slogans touting the fact that while Massachusetts has two tax-free days a year, New Hampshire has 365.

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Then, there are the online merchants not based in Massachusetts but who market heavily and aggressively to consumers here, and who do not collect sales tax. Even the most loyal consumers, if they have the option of purchasing a big-ticket item across the border or online, will opt to save the additional several hundred dollars in tax, and those decisions often leave the brick-and-mortar Massachusetts retailers out in the cold.

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The move afoot to make the Massachusetts “tax-free holiday” weekend permanent, while a good step, doesn’t go far enough to put the retail business community here in a stronger competitive position.

Retailers and consumers alike face rising prices on a lot of goods -- gasoline, food, and entertainment, to name a few. Rising prices discourage sales, and a burdensome state sales tax does nothing to encourage greater consumer purchases.

Business owners here are not unreasonable, and neither are Massachusetts voters, who in 2010 defeated a ballot initiative that would have reduced the sales tax to 3 percent. We know that Massachusetts cannot eliminate the sales tax entirely, but reducing it will give both business people and consumers a feeling that the state is looking out for them and doing its part to make the climate here as inviting and as competitive as possible.

NO

Roxanne Mather

Brockton resident; member of the Coalition for Social Justice

Handout
Roxanne Mather

Massachusetts should not lower our sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent because that cut would reduce state revenues by about $1.25 billion annually, likely resulting in severe cuts to state programs, including local aid that funds schools, roads, libraries, and public safety. $1.25 billion is more than the state currently provides each year in unrestricted local aid to cities and towns.

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Cities and towns throughout the state are already struggling with underfunded schools, crumbling transportation systems, and public safety departments that are stretched thin by the opioid abuse crisis. If the sales tax is cut, it could mean teacher layoffs, delayed transportation infrastructure projects, and cuts to mental health and addiction treatment programs, among other services.

Brockton is presently considering a lawsuit against the state to increase education funding for district schools, after years of under-funding led to more than 150 jobs cut over the last three years, with class sizes reaching above 35 students per class in one school. As the Globe reported in March, Brockton no longer has money for substitute teachers at the high school, and students are sent to the cafeteria if their teacher is out sick. If the sales tax is reduced, how would we cut millions of dollars from our schools?

Massachusetts was recently ranked 46th in the nation for road quality by US News & World Report. Regional transit authorities have raised fares and reduced services for bus riders after years of inadequate funding from the state. If the sales tax is cut, how would we cut millions of dollars from our already financially-strapped transportation systems?

Finally, the number of opioid overdoses remains high, and our public safety agencies are dealing with the high cost of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan. If the sales tax is cut, how would we cut millions of dollars from our police, fire, and EMS departments?

We should be investing in our local schools, roads and transit, and public safety agencies, not cutting more than $1 billion from the state budget. Cutting the sales tax would harm important public services we all depend on.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.