Florida's back-to-school sales tax holiday runs this weekend | Business

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Florida's back-to-school sales tax holiday runs this weekend

Shoppers prepare to swipe your debit cards.

Florida's sales tax holiday starts Friday at one minute after midnight and lasts through Sunday.

The three-day back-to-school tax holiday eliminates state and local taxes on more than 130 items, including certain clothes, footwear and backpacks costing $75 or less.

The tax break also covers lots of school supplies, including pencils, pens, notebooks, lunch boxes and calculators that cost $15 or less.

Retailers are already marking down prices on a lot of items to compete for your cash. So in addition to the tax break, shoppers will see sale prices too.

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Rick McAllister of the Florida Retail Federation compares the back-to-school tax holiday to the pre-Christmas shopping bonanza of Black Friday.

Retailers will be closely gauging consumer confidence this weekend in light of the nation's recent debt problems and ongoing high unemployment.

"I think we'll be OK because back-to-school shopping is need-shopping versus want-shopping and so that's got to be done. Kids have to be ready to go back to school. So we're expecting a two to four percent increase over last year when we had a back-to-school holiday as well."

McAllister says the retail industry has posted steady growth over the past year despite unemployment and housing problems.

"Retail sales have been up over the last 10 to 15 months about two to four percent, a nice steady increase despite high unemployment, despite housing problems. And now we've got in addition to those two, we've got some debt problems and we've got a 401k problem. So we'll see how the consumer reacts to that."

The average family spends about $600 on back-to-school items, according to the Retail Federation.

One estimate indicates the state of Florida would lose more than $25 million in tax collections as a result of this tax break. But McAllister says shoppers end up buying a lot of items that are not tax-free so ultimately the state actually brings in more money.

"The shopper wins, the retailer wins and the state wins because revenue collection doesn't go down. It goes up because of the taxable spending that's going on."

The state legislature has approved the sales tax holiday off and on since 1998. In some years, the holiday lasted nine days. McAllister says retailers prefer the nine-day event because shoppers get two weekends surrounding the weekdays to do their back-to-school shopping.

"That's really better for Florida's families, frankly, because the average family is going to spend about $600 on back-to-school shopping and so if you force them to do that during a single weekend, for people who get paid by the week, that's a pretty big chunk. So we like to see it spread out over a longer period of time and hopefully we will talk to the legislature next year about doing that."

You can see the full list of items that are tax-free this weekend at: http://dor.myflorida.com. Click on the list of tax exempt items.

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