It doesn’t match the double-digit days of the middle of the last decade.
But sales of taxable items increased a respectable 8.5 percent last month over the same period a year earlier.
New figures Thursday from the Arizona Department of Revenue show total sales at $3.77 billion. That compares to $3.52 billion for February — and $3.48 billion for March 2010.
Much of the boost is due to a sharp jump in the sales of cars and trucks, where the total amount of money that changed hands in March was nearly $445 million. A year ago sales were just $363 million.
But Marshall Vest, an economist at the University of Arizona, suggested there may be less to that big increase than meets the eye.
Vest specifically cited the 2009 ``cash for clunkers’’ program that provided federal dollars to those willing to trade in their older — and presumably more polluting — vehicles for newer ones. He said that created a ``hole’’ in sales for months after the program ended, as many who were just thinking about getting a vehicle decided to jump in to get the rebate.
``There was some borrowing from future months that hurt the numbers after the program expired,’’ he said. That depressed sales last spring, making the current numbers look so much larger by comparison.
Overall, the new numbers show the state still is a long way from getting the economy back on track.
On one hand, that $3.77 billion figure is the best March since 2008. But it still is far below the $4.3 billion figure recorded in 2007 before the economy went bust — and when vehicle sales alone topped $690 million.
Restaurant and bar sales are up 5.1 percent from the same time last year. This is an indicator of both expendable income as well as tourism.
But the tourism component of that may not be all that great: Income from hotels and motels rose only 2.3 percent year over year.