4 takeaways from sales tax moves

You could actually see an industry in transition on Wednesday. Amazon held a giant job fair at nearly a dozen of its US warehouses, including the one in Fall River, as the company sought to fill 50,000 empty positions across the country.

At the same time, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts announced it was mounting a ballot campaign to cut the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax and possibly enshrine in state law a weekend sales tax holiday. The association said its proposal was designed to keep bricks-and-mortar retailers competitive with their online counterparts and stores in New Hampshire, which doesn’t have a sales tax.

Gov. Charlie Baker also got into the act, filing legislation to authorize a sales tax holiday weekend on Aug. 19-20. “It’s important to downtowns, it’s important to Main Streets, and we just think it’s the right thing to do,” Baker said.

Let’s examine what’s going on here:

First, Amazon is eating everyone’s lunch, taxes or no taxes. As the Associated Press reports, “most of the jobs are full-time positions in packing, sorting, and shipping and will count toward Amazon’s previously announced goal of adding 100,000 full-time workers by the middle of next year.” Starting salaries in Fall River are $12.50 an hour.

Second, the ballot push by the Retailers Association won’t be enough to save Main Street retailers, but it could buy them some time. Still, the trend lines for retail stores are not good. Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said the bad news is that more people are likely to lose jobs in stores than get jobs in warehouses belonging to Amazon and other online retailers.

Third, the sales tax ballot question is well-timed. The sales tax is a key source of revenue for the state and the MBTA, so any cuts could scramble state finances. But the 2018 ballot is also likely to feature a question amending the state constitution to impose a surtax on people earning more than $1 million a year. The two questions together could leave the state close to revenue neutral while giving voters a chance to address income inequality — hiking taxes on the rich while lowering one of the state’s more regressive taxes.

Fourth, Baker’s push for a sales tax holiday this month seems to be all about optics. He waited until after the Legislature recessed for the year before filing the legislation authorizing a sales tax holiday. Usually the governor is the grown-up on Beacon Hill when it comes to finances, urging lawmakers to rein in their spending. But this time he made a last-minute push for a sales tax holiday that could cost the state $26 million, knowing full well that the Legislature was unlikely to go along. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who often sides with Baker on tax issues, said normally he would be amenable to a sales tax holiday but not this year with the state facing revenue shortfalls. Rep. Jay Kaufman, the House chair of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee, called Baker’s proposal “a colossal mistake.”



A Boston Herald editorial decries the Legislature’s move to embrace $200 million in fees on employers to shore up Medicaid while ignoring Gov. Charlie Baker’s reform plan for the program and says legislative leaders ought to commit to considering changes to MassHealth.

Meet the newest member of the Massachusetts Senate, Cindy Friedman. (Boston Globe)


Dorchester Reporter editor Bill Forry offers scathing criticism of yesterday’s Globe editorial lamenting the death of the Boston 2024 Olympic bid due to “early PR mistakes that allowed NIMBYism to take root.” Forry says the PR mistakes were “outright falsehoods” peddled to the public and that skeptics were labeled NIMBYs for “not plunging our heads in the sand.”

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera promotes six police officers, including one who was placed on leave for five days in May after an incident that has been hushed up. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Worcester Planning Board approves 84 apartments at the site of the Notre Dame des Canadiens church, which means the landmark is likely to be razed. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Patriot Ledger has a round-up of how various South Shore communities are approaching the new law governing how municipalities can regulate or ban retail marijuana outlets.

Sturbridge is the latest community to reject a proposal for a regional emergency communications center in central Massachusetts, making its construction unlikely. (Telegram & Gazette)


President Trump endorses a dramatic scaling back of legal immigration that would give priority to English speakers and those with higher skills. (New York Times)

The Trump administration is moving to limit health care coverage for birth control by allowing any employer to opt out of including it in their health plan. (Boston Globe)


Seventeen groups filed more than two dozen ballot questions for 2018. The questions now face a series of legal and political hurdles before actually getting on the ballot. (State House News)

In running for a fourth term, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell casts himself as a professional executive. (South Coast Today)

US Rep. Seth Moulton says he is headed to Iowa this fall to recruit for the Democratic Party — not to run for president. (Gloucester Times) But Joan Vennochi says he’s just one of the Massachusetts multitudes with dreams of a White House run. (Boston Globe)


Officials at the state convention center kickoff a new round of expansion efforts, but any addition to the Summer Street facility may be more modest than the $1 billion plan Gov. Charlie Baker scuttled two years ago. (Boston Globe)

Hanover Insurance Group said it plans to cut 160 jobs, or about 3 percent of its workforce, with half of the layoffs coming in Worcester. (Telegram & Gazette)


The majority of students accepted for Harvard’s incoming freshman class are nonwhite, a first for the Cambridge university. (Boston Globe)


A federal appeals court rules that 16 attorneys general, including Maura Healey, may intervene in a lawsuit in an effort to protect federal subsidies for those buying health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. (Boston Globe)


The grounding of the high-speed ferry Iyanough cost the Wood’s Hole, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority an estimated $1.5 million in lost fares, parking revenues, and repair expenses. (Cape Cod Times)


Stephen Dodge of the Massachusetts Petroleum Council says the proposed compressed natural gas station in Weymouth is safe — and needed. (The Enterprise)


A Lowell Sun editorial says the state Lottery must be allowed to move games online to keep money for cities and towns coming.


A witness in the “Top Chef” extortion trial testified that Kenneth Brissette, a top aide to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh who is under indictment in a separate case alleging union strong-arming, asked him to remove Walsh from a segment of the show he was filmed in and pressed him to hire unwanted Teamsters drivers. (Boston Herald) Another witness testified that Brissette discussed canceling permits for the show when he found out Teamsters were mad that the project wasn’t using union workers. (Boston Globe)

Six people, including four who worked for the Registry of Motor Vehicles, are arrested and charged with making false licenses for people in the country illegally. (MassLive)


Meta media criticism: On WGBH’s weekly “Beat the Press” show last Friday, host Emily Rooney had some harsh words for a Dig Boston story on the history of racism surrounding the Boston Red Sox. Dig editor Chris Faraone this week had some harsh words for Rooney.

Former channel 5 newscaster Heather Unruh decries the industry trend to ask female anchors to dress more provocatively. (Boston Globe) Rooney, a former TV news director, said even the weather reports have gotten “sexed up” by station executives, but says she doesn’t “disapprove that much” and that “you do what you have to do to survive.” (Boston Herald)

Jim McManus offers five prescriptions for escaping the news Thunderdome. (CommonWealth)