In the depths of a recession, digging deeper is a hardship. So when Massachusetts raised the sales tax rate this year, more shoppers were bound to head for sales-tax-free New Hampshire. Yet as a recent Globe article showed, some consumers’ efforts to avoid the hike bears little relationship to what it actually costs.
While it’s not surprising to hear of Massachusetts consumers buying TVs and other big-ticket taxable items in New Hampshire, a Methuen resident told a reporter that she also buys her groceries north of the border. Meanwhile, one South Boston resident said that “I just went up there [to New Hampshire] to buy a pair of running shoes last week because I just wasn’t willing to pay the taxes.’’ But wait a minute. The first $175 of the price of clothing items, including running shoes, is tax-free in Massachusetts. So are grocery items.
Taxpayers are justifiably frustrated when lawmakers balk at trimming unnecessary expenses, such as outsized benefits for public employees. Still, the Taxachusetts talk is overblown. Many New Hampshire towns have higher property taxes than their Massachusetts counterparts; others skimp on municipal services. In Massachusetts, the sales tax hike prevented deeper cuts to vital human services and to public schools that are, by many measures, the nation’s best.
At least Massachusetts has exempted the necessities of life from the sales tax. Political statements aside, there is no financial reason to burn the gasoline and time necessary to buy them elsewhere.