Wednesday August 1, 2012

BOSTON -- Legislation designed to spur economic development and create jobs in Massachusetts -- as well as give residents a temporary sales tax break -- was passed by lawmakers Tuesday on the final day of the formal two-year session.

The 115-page bill, crafted by House and Senate negotiators, includes a two-day sales tax holiday on the weekend of Aug. 11 and Aug. 12.

The conference com mittee opted not to include in the final version of the bill a proposal to expand the state’s 5-cent bottle deposit law to include plastic water bottles and other non-carbonated beverages.

The bill that passed overwhelmingly in both chambers calls for nearly $30 million in state grants to spur economic development, particularly in scientific research and advanced technology manufacturing, traditional areas of strength for the Massachusetts economy. It would fund research projects at the University of Massachusetts and other state universities with matching grants, create a small business online resource and provide workforce training, among other things.

The state’s unemployment rate has remained below the national average throughout the economic downturn and stood at 6 percent in June. But federal statistics showed that for the first month this year, Massachusetts lost jobs in June.


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House Speaker Robert DeLeo called attention to the jobs bill in May, when he published an open letter calling on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who created the social media website in his Harvard dorm room, to consider returning the company to Massachusetts.

"To see a gentleman such as Mark Zuckerberg, who started here in Massachusetts and is now in California, it bothers me," DeLeo told reporters at the time. "He should be here in Massachusetts."

While acknowledging that such a scenario was unlikely, DeLeo and other supporters of the bill hope it might spur other cutting-edge firms to make Massachusetts their home.

Republican lawmakers, who filed their own jobs proposal earlier in the session, had sought an approach that emphasized tax breaks and reduced regulation for businesses. Most supported the final bill, however.

Sales tax holidays have been held several times in recent years and are popular with shoppers and retailers. Traditionally held in August, they are viewed by merchants as a way of jumpstarting sales during a sluggish time of year.

The latest proposal would exempt most items from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12. Among the purchases that would continue to be taxed are restaurant meals, cars and motorboats, tobacco and any single item that costs more than $2,500.

Critics of the sales tax holiday have pointed to the loss of valuable state tax revenue. Anticipating that the Legislature would again back a holiday, Gov. Deval Patrick filed a supplemental budget in early July that set aside about $20 million to offset the revenue loss.

The absence of the bottle bill expansion from the final version of the legislation appeared to end a last-ditch effort by advocates to win approval of the measure in the current session.

Bottle bill supporters say it would help the environment by greatly reducing the number of beverage containers that litter roadsides and clog landfills.