Retailers seek relief with tax, Sunday pay, insurance proposals

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BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – Massachusetts retailers are trying to sell lawmakers on amendments filed to a $915.5 million economic development bill that they say would help Main Street businesses compete against internet sellers and larger corporate businesses.

In a letter to House members Thursday, Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) President Jon Hurst urged legislators to amend the bill (H 4461) to establish a sales tax holiday this year, to allow year-end financial incentives under the Small Business Health Insurance Cooperative and to eliminate the requirement that retailers pay time and a half on Sundays.

“Ask any small business owner on what they need to be successful, to compete with big companies, to thrive alongside the new ‘innovation economy,’ and to compete with smartphone sellers and they will likely tell you two things – higher sales and lower costs,” Hurst wrote. “Passage of the following three amendments are the best ways for state government to deliver on those two asks of our Main Street employers.”

RAM supports a Rep. Paul McMurtry amendment (#53) to suspend the 6.25 percent sales tax for two days in August, an effort to spur consumer spending that has become an annual event.

“The Sales Tax Holiday is pro-consumer, pro-Main Street, and pro-retail employee. Consumers love it, and our Main Streets need it,” Hurst wrote. “Results have shown that during the STH weekend MA picks up millions of new impulse buys and recovers vital sales that would normally go to non-taxed locations in New Hampshire or online.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg have suggested that the state could save money in fiscal 2017 by foregoing the sales tax holiday in the face of tax collections that have not met estimates agreed to by state government leaders.

Rep. Joseph Wagner, House chair of the Committee on Economic Development, said he expects the House to discuss the sales tax holiday amendment on the floor Thursday afternoon.

RAM is also asking lawmakers to support a Rep. John Scibak amendment (#31) that would allow businesses to pay employees straight time on Sundays beginning Jan. 1, 2017 but would allow current employees to continue to be paid at the higher rate.

“Adopted as a tradeoff to get stores open in the first place on Sundays 4 decades ago, when the minimum wage was around $3, the requirement is no longer affordable today for stores attempting to compete with those over the border or on the internet,” Hurst wrote. “With smartphone sales representing a majority of shopping activity by today’s Millennials, we simply cannot afford a Sunday retail minimum wage of which doesn’t exist in 48 states or for any internet sellers.”

The third amendment RAM says it wants to see adopted (#40) was filed by Rep. Kate Hogan and would “replace upfront discounts with back end financial incentives” in the Small Business Health Insurance Cooperative, which RAM said would give employers more flexibility and provide relief from double-digit premium increases.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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