The Back to School Tax Free Holiday is underway!

News Radio 1200 WOAI reports the annual August ritual has pushed this sleepy weekend into becoming, for many retailers, the second busiest shopping weekend of the entire year, behind only Black Friday after Thanksgiving.

George Kellemen with the Texas Retailers Association says his members have come to rely on this weekend as well for a big bump in sales.

"Next to the holiday shopping season, Black Friday and after Thanksgiving, the Tax Free weekend is pretty big," Kelleman said.

He says it is also coming at a great time, with retail sales continuing to be sluggish.  A report from the State Comptroller shows sales tax rebates to local governments in July, which is the best measure of retail sales because it doesn't include un taxed 'necessities' like food and pharmaceutical products, was down in San Antonio compared with last year.

Kelleman says with the oil industry recovering from its two-year slump, retail is recovering too, pointing out that when people are employed and making money, they buy stuff.

Even though the items which are covered by the tax free weekend are limited, the increased traffic benefits all products, and all stores.

"You get that many folks in the stores, there are other items they may want to buy, it has a good trickle down effect," he said.

On line retailers are participating in the tax free holiday on a case by case basis.  Amazon.com and Walmart, for example, won't charge sales tax on back to school items, but Amazon says some retailers who sell items on its site may not participate.   If those items include mandatory 'shipping and handling charges,' those are tax free too.  Items placed on layaway during the tax free weekend are also tax free.

The 'tax free' only covers the first $100 of your purchase per item.  If you buy two items for $60 apiece, both are tax free even though the total purchase is more than $100.  You have to pay sales tax at the regular rate on anything above that.

This year shoppers will save $87 million on state and local taxes this weekend.But the list of the items that are tax free and the items that are not sounds more like a list of which industries have the best lobbyists in the Legislature, not which items are needed the most for 'back to school.'

Basic supplies like backpacks were belatedly added to the tax free list a few years ago, but there are still some bizarre items which are, and are not, included:

Such well known 'back to school' items as clerical vestments and adult diapers are sales tax free as part of the 'back to school weekend.'

If you're going to cooking school you're in luck, because chef's hats and aprons are tax free.

Belts are tax free, but belt buckles are not.

For those students who are really optimistic, graduation caps and gowns are tax free.

And, if, like many students, you plan to nod off in class, you're in luck.  Pajamas and nightgowns are tax free as part of the 'back to school' weekend.

It is also, bizarrely, illegal for companies to offer to 'pay your sales tax' to get you to buy items which are not tax free.