The annual shopping spree orchestrated by the Texas Legislature was delayed two weeks this year thanks to a mandated later start of school, but the state’s ninth sales tax holiday weekend finally opened this morning.

Purchases of most clothes and shoes priced under $100 — and now backpacks, as well — will be free from state and local taxes beginning today through the close of business on Sunday.

It’s a tax exemption that has saved Texas shoppers about $336 million in state and local sales taxes since the first such holiday in 1999, and Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has estimated that the savings this year will top $52 million.

This year, families with school-age children are expected to spend $563.49 on back-to-school merchandise, up 6.9 percent from last year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.

State retailers report that the opportunity to cheat the taxman has made this back-to-school inspired weekend one of the strongest shopping periods of the year, equal to or topping the hectic weekends right after Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The exemption gives buyers of eligible clothing and other items an immediate discount of about 8 percent, depending on the local tax rates, but merchants typically boost those savings with sales of their own.

Most public school students go back on Aug. 27 this year. Private schools are also starting later.

“From now on, the sales tax holiday will occur on the third Friday, Saturday and Sunday of August,” Combs said. “The Legislature responded to parents’ requests to add backpacks to the list of tax-exempt items,” she said. “Backpacks can be expensive, especially for parents who have to buy them for several children. A tax break helps.”

Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., hold sales tax holidays in August to help parents with back-to-school shopping.

The Texas Legislature established the tax-free shopping weekend in 1999 after seeing the success of similar events in New York and Florida.

Not everyone is excited about the prospect of saving on taxes. A statement from the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin Wednesday pointed out that the exemption was created as a way to help the finances of lower-income families, but it instead benefits higher-income families more because they can afford to make bulk purchases. It cited a study showing that 40 percent of the total tax savings goes to households with incomes of $70,000 a year or more.

Meanwhile, the state’s lost revenue of $52.1 million is four times what Texas currently spends on aid to public libraries. Buyers may actually save more money by shopping the deeper discounts retailers offer on other weekends, the center said.

Here’s a summary of items eligible for the exemption, followed by a list of items not eligible, provided by the comptroller’s office:

TAX FREE

Baby clothes Backpacks for use by elementary and secondary students Belts with attached buckles Boots - cowboy, hiking Caps/hats - baseball, fishing, golf, knitted Coats and wraps Diapers - adult and baby Dresses Gloves (generally) Gym suits and uniforms Hooded shirts and hooded sweatshirts Hosiery Jackets Jeans Jerseys - baseball and football Jogging apparel Neckwear and ties Pajamas Pants and trousers Raincoats and ponchos Robes Shirts Shoes - sandals, slippers, sneakers, tennis, walking Socks (including athletic) Shorts Suits, slacks, and jackets Sweatshirts Sweat suits Sweaters Swimsuits Underclothes Work clothes and uniforms

TAXED

Accessories (generally) - barrettes, elastic ponytail holders, wallets, watches Backpacks - unless for use by elementary and secondary students Baseball cleats and pants Belt buckles (without belt) Boots - climbing, fishing, rubber work boots, ski, waders Buttons and zippers Cloth and lace, knitting yarns, and other fabrics Dry cleaning services Football pants Golf gloves Handbags and purses Handkerchiefs Hard hats Helmets - bike, baseball, football, hockey, motorcycle, sports Ice skates Jewelry Laundering services Leather goods - except belts with buckles and wearing apparel Pads - football, hockey, soccer, elbow, knee, shoulder Personal flotation devices Rented clothing (including uniforms, formal wear, and costumes) Roller blades and skates Safety clothing, glasses Shoes - bicycle (cleated), bowling, golf