Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 40 – Report No. 6

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By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on one roll call and local senators on four from the week of February 9-13.

CLOSE THE $768 MILLION BUDGET DEFICIT (H 52)
House 155-1, Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a package aimed at helping to close the state’s $768 million budget deficit. The plan is very similar to the one originally proposed by the governor. It offers a two-month corporate tax amnesty program in which participating businesses would be exempt from financial penalties if they pay their outstanding taxes. The Baker Administration estimates the program will generate about $18 million in revenue. Other provisions include the diversion to the General Fund of $131 million in capital gains taxes scheduled to go to the state’s Rainy Day Fund and $40 million in transportation cuts including $14 million in cuts to the MBTA.

Supporters said this is a fiscally responsible package that will allow the state to pay its bills and balance the budget. They noted that the package does not cut local aid or raise taxes.

The lone opponent said the package includes many deplorable cuts in higher education and mental health and a $14 million unjustified cut to the MBTA. She said she would have preferred to stop January’s automatic .05 percent cut in the income tax, which results in the loss of $70 million while saving middle class taxpayers only an average of $20.

(A “Yes” vote is for the package. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes

JOINT RULES FOR 2015-2016 SESSION (S 7)
Senate 36-0, approved a set of rules under which the House and Senate jointly will operate during the 2015-2016 session. Changes from the 2013-2014 session include requiring joint committee votes to be posted on the Legislature’s website within 48 hours; allowing senators to report Senate bills out of joint committees to the full Senate without consent of their House counterparts; requiring that at least one member of a conference committee is a member of the minority party; allowing all committee members the opportunity to issue a dissenting minority report on any bills acted upon by the committee; and giving the Legislature until June 30, 2016 to override any vetoes made by the governor in 2015. Current rules only give the Legislature until December 31, 2015

Supporters said these changes will make the Legislature and its operations more transparent and efficient.

(A “Yes” vote is for the rules package.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

GET BILLS OUT OF COMMITTEE (S 7)
Senate 37-0, approved a rule that would allow bills filed by senators that are heard by joint committees to be reported on and sent to the Senate for a vote if the Senate members of the committee vote to do so. The same rule would apply to bills filed by House members. Current rules require a vote of both House and Senate members of the entire joint committee.

Supporters of the rule said it would help make the operation of committees more efficient and help stop bills from being tied up in committee.

(A “Yes” vote is for the rule.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

LOCAL AID GUARANTEE BY MARCH 15 (S 7)
Senate 7-29, rejected a rule requiring the House and Senate to annually adopt by March 15 resolutions stating the minimum amount of local aid that the Legislature will give to cities and towns for that year.

Supporters said most communities craft their local budgets in March and can better prepare if they know by March 15 how much local aid they will receive. They noted it is unfair to make communities wait until July, which is when the Legislature often makes its decision.

Opponents said the Senate Ways and Means Committee has not even drafted a budget proposal by March 15 so it would be irresponsible to make promises that might not be able to be kept. They said that being forced to set dollar figures for local aid too early can also result in conservative estimates that are lower than what communities will actually receive.

(A “Yes” vote is for the March 15 deadline. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen No

COST EFFECTIVENESS OF LAWS (S 7)
Senate 6-30, rejected a proposed rule to amend a current rule that requires each legislative committee to determine whether laws, regulations and programs under the jurisdiction of that committee are being implemented in accordance with the intent of the Legislature and whether they should be continued, curtailed or eliminated. The proposed rule would require the committees to also consider their cost-effectiveness.

Supporters of the proposed rule said it makes sense for the committee involved to determine whether something is cost-effective or not. They argued this would increase accountability.

Opponents of the proposed rule said these committees already have broad authority to determine cost-effectiveness. They also noted that the proposed rule is duplicative because many bills go to the Ways and Means Committee, which already considers cost-effectiveness.

(A “Yes” vote is for the proposed rule. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen No

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

SPEAKER SAYS “NO TAX HIKES” – In an address to the House last week, Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) promised there would be no new taxes or fees in the House budget expected to be proposed in the spring. DeLeo said that many families’ budgets are stressed to the limit. “We will not add to that burden,” he said.

DeLeo presided over a $500 million-plus tax hike in the summer of 2013, including a 3-cent-per-gallon hike in the state’s current 21-cent-per-gallon gas tax with automatic future hikes indexed to inflation. The indexing was repealed by voters on the 2014 ballot. Other provisions included a $1 hike in the current $2.51-per-package cigarette tax, an increase in the tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco and the reinstatement of tolls at exits 1 through 6 on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Western Massachusetts. The legislation also imposed a new 6.25 percent sales tax on computer system design services as well as services to modify prewritten software. The Legislature later repealed that new tax.

POSSIBLE 2016 BALLOT QUESTIONS – Rep. Geoff Diehl and Republican activists Marty Lamb and Holly Robichaud announced that they are considering an effort to get three ballot questions on the 2016 ballot. They include reducing the 6.25 tax to 5 percent; reinstating the 8-year term limit on the Speaker of the House; and prohibiting illegal immigrant students from being allowed to pay the in-state state college tuition rate which is lower than the rate for out-of-state students. The sales tax was hiked from 5 percent to 6.25 percent in 2009. The lower tuition rate for some illegal immigrants is currently allowed under an executive order issued by former Gov. Patrick as long as they obtain work permits through a special program ordered by President Obama. The repeal of term limits on the speaker was approved at the end of January.

Other possible questions include legalizing, licensing, regulating and taxing marijuana and allowing adults over 21 to grow it for their personal use and the use by others over 21. This campaign is being led by Richard Evans, a Northampton lawyer and chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts. In 2014, voters in 56 Massachusetts cities and towns approved local non-binding ballot questions asking if they favor making recreational marijuana legal.

Another possible question would essentially kill the potential Boson 2024 Olympic Games by stopping the state from providing any taxpayer funds toward the games. The effort is being spearheaded by former 2014 gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuck and his United Independent Party.

Sponsors of possible 2016 ballot questions have until August 5, 2015 to file their proposals with Attorney General Maura Healey. That is the first step in the long process to get their proposed laws on the ballot. Ultimately sponsors must gather 68,911 voter signatures by November 2015. The measures would then be sent to the Legislature and if not approved by the House and Senate by May 3, 2016, proponents must gather another 11,485 signatures by July 6, 2016 in order for the question to appear on the November 8, 2016 ballot.

CLIMATOLOGIST – Gov. Baker dealt the final blow to any chance of funding the newly created Office of the State Climatologist that was approved by the Legislature and signed by former Gov. Deval Patrick last July.

A climatologist attempts to discover and explain the impacts of climate over a long period of time.

The office was originally funded at $200,000 but faced with a $768 million budget deficit, Patrick cut it by $125,000 in November while Gov. Baker cut the remaining $75,000 a few days ago. The position was to have been a new initiative for this year and no one had yet been appointed to it.

Governors have unilateral authority to reduce or eliminate funding for executive branch agencies.

Supporters of the office say that 47 states have climatologists and it is time for the Bay State to join their ranks and benefit from this important knowledge.

QUOTABLE QUOTES: Special MBTA Edition

MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott resigned last week in the wake of widespread service problems on the T during and after recent snowstorms.

“No. I did not.”

Gov. Charlie Baker on whether he forced Scott out of her job.

“The failures of the public transportation service are unacceptable and can’t be allowed to continue. We must all commit to making the changes that will bring forth a cost-effective system that riders can rely on.”

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).

“[Dr. Beverly Scott] has shown leadership and courage during the challenges we are facing, and I wish her the best of luck in the future. I look forward to working with the governor to improve our public transportation system to better serve our residents who rely on it everyday.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

“The MBTA is broke and broken. It is structurally insolvent … it is time for emergency legislation to fix the MBTA.”

Statement from the Pioneer Institute.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

During the week of February 9-13, the House met for a total of nine hours and 31 minutes and the Senate met for a total of six hours and 10 minutes.

Mon. February 9 No House session
No Senate session

Tues. February 10 House 1:00 p.m. to 1:01 p.m.
No Senate session

Wed. February 11 House 11:23 a.m. to 2:56 p.m.
Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:42 a.m.

Thurs. February 12 House 11:04 a.m. to 5:01 p.m.
Senate 1:03 p.m. to 6:37 p.m.

Fri. February 13 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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