Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 32 – Report No. 24 June 12-16, 2017

By Bob Katzen 
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on the only roll call from the week of June 12-16.

   The House and Senate held a constitutional convention and approved 134-55, (House approved 105-48, Senate approved 29-7), a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow a graduated income tax in Massachusetts and impose an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current flat 5.1 percent one, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million. The proposal was also approved by the 2015-2016 Legislature and will now go on the November 2018 ballot for voters to decide. 


   The amendment was proposed by the group Raise Up Massachusetts, which gathered the necessary signatures to bring the measure before the Legislature. Language in the amendment requires that, “subject to appropriation,” the revenue from the new tax will be used to fund quality public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.


   Supporters said the amendment is a reasonable one that will affect only 20,000 very wealthy individuals and will raise $2 billion in additional revenue. They said the requirement to use the revenue for education and transportation will benefit millions of Bay State taxpayers. They argued the hike would help lower income families which are now paying a higher share of their income in taxes.


   Opponents said that if the amendment becomes law, the state will soon regain its dreaded title of “Taxachusetts.” They argued the new tax will lead to the loss of 9,500 private sector jobs and will result in many millionaires moving out of the state and a loss of all income tax revenue from them. They argued that the caveat that the $2 billion is “subject to appropriation,” means it will end up in the General Fund and be up for grabs for anything. They noted the amendment will open a Pandora’s Box that will result in class warfare and higher taxes on millions of taxpayers by allowing the Legislature to establish different tax rates for different levels of income.


   Some opponents said that the new proposal is unconstitutional and promised they will challenge it in the courts. They said that allowing special interests to put earmarks in the constitution is an unconstitutional end run around the Legislature’s accountability for “tax and spend” decisions.



   (A “Yes” vote is for the additional 4 percent tax. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   ALLOW LOWER TUITION RATES FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (H 685) – The Higher Education Committee heard testimony on a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to pay the in-state tuition rates and fees at Massachusetts colleges and universities if they have attended a high school in Massachusetts for at least three years and have graduated or received the equivalent of a diploma.


   The measure also requires these students to have a social security number or individual taxpayer identification number; provide an affidavit stating that he or she has filed or will in file an application to become a citizen or permanent resident; and register for selective service. 
   Supporters said many of these students were babies when they were brought here by their parents and had no choice about entering the country illegally. They noted some hardworking students are currently required to pay out-of-state tuition rates that are significantly higher than the in-state rate.


   Although no one testified against the measure, opponents say the state should not offer financial rewards to anyone who has broken the law and is in this country illegally. They argue it is outrageous to offer low tuition rates to these students while legal citizens who live outside Massachusetts, including war veterans, are required to pay higher rates if they attend a Massachusetts state university.


   PAID FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE (S 1048 and H 2172) – The Labor and Workforce Development Committee held a hearing on two bills that would allow workers in Massachusetts to take paid leave to recover from a serious illness or injury, to care for a seriously ill or injured family member or to care of a new or adopted child. 
   Employees taking paid leave would receive partial wage replacement equal to a percentage of their average weekly wages, with a maximum weekly benefit of $650 in one of the proposals and $1,000 in the other one. The employees would be eligible for up to 16 weeks to care for a family member or new child, and up to 26 weeks to recover from his or her own serious illness or injury. Benefits would be funded through employer and employee premium contributions to a new Family and Employment Security Trust Fund.
  Supporters said the legislation balances the needs of work and family. They noted that thousands of hardworking people in Massachusetts are forced to choose between going to work sick or losing a day’s pay — or worse, their jobs. They noted some are even forced to send a sick child to school to save their income or job. They noted that businesses providing sick time find that it reduces employee turnover, increases productivity and helps their bottom line.


  Opponents, led by some business advocacy groups, said the program would be very expensive for employers and would harm small businesses. They said this cookie cutter approach is a flawed state mandate and argued that small businesses and their employees depend on flexibility to increase salaries and other benefits.


   REQUIRE A CIVICS COURSE TO GRADUATE (H 2016) – The Education Committee held a hearing on a measure that would require students to complete a course in civics in order to receive their high school diploma. The course would educate students about the Constitutions of the United States and Massachusetts, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, local history and government and the electoral process, including the initiative petition and referendum process.


   MUST LEARN FINANCIAL LITERACY (H 288) – Also on the Education Committee’s agenda was legislation that would require students to complete a course in financial literacy in order to receive their high school diploma. The course would include understanding personal and educational loan terms and repayment; the mechanics of borrowing money; the use of credit; the impact of debt on credit worthiness; the rights and responsibilities of signing a rental lease; the mortgage approval process; balancing a checkbook; state and federal taxes; and charitable giving.
  CARING FOR ELDERLY RELATIVES (H 1519) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on a bill that would give an income tax credit of up to $4,000 for families caring for elderly relatives over age 70 at home if the taxpayer provides more than one-half of the support of the relative. The relative must live with the taxpayer at least six months per year and have an annual income of less than $30,000.
   TRANSPORTATION BILLS – The Transportation Committee held a hearing on several bills including:
   WEAR REFLECTIVE MATERIAL (H 1854) – Requires anyone walking outdoors in an unilluminated area after dusk to wear reflective material or carry a luminescent device like a flashlight, lantern or the flashlight application on a cell phone in order to help prevent accidents.
   MUST REGISTER BIKES WITH REGISTRY OF MOTOR VEHICLES (H 1832) – Requires anyone age 21 and older to register his or her bicycle biannually with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The state would establish a fee and issue a license plate that the bicyclist would be required to attach to his or her bike.
   Supporters say this would give drivers and pedestrians a way to identify and report a bicyclist who is breaking traffic rules. They note that it will also ensure that bicyclists, by paying fines, will help pay for the maintenance of bike lanes.

   QUOTABLE QUOTES – Responses to the Legislature’s passage of an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current flat 5.1 percent one, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million. The proposal will now go on the November 2018 ballot for voters to decide. 


   “I was first to support this initiative because it is aligned with my value for fairness, in that it calls on those with the greatest ability to pay their fair share of tax. I firmly believe that the Fair Share Amendment represents our best chance for new revenue in the near future and I will continue to push for its goals.”
   Mary Ann Stewart, one of the ten original signers of the petition to get this question on the ballot.

   “No constitutional amendment gets on the ballot unless the Legislature wants it to pass, so this is now the lawmakers’ proposal. For the sixth time voters will have the last word, and like all previous attempts to abolish the flat income tax, if it somehow survives court challenges and gets that far, it too will fail.”
   Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.


   “The reality is that the Commonwealth is billions of dollars away from what is truly needed to improve and provide a state-of-the-art, 21st century transportation system that connects employees to jobs, students to institutions of higher education and elders and others to medical appointments.”
   Sen. Tom McGee (D-Lynn), Co-chair of the Committee on Transportation.

  “The proposed historic tax increase represents an unprecedented move to shelter elected politicians from accountability for taxation and spending policies. But before the special-interest backed measure, which would prove disastrous to our goals of economic growth and job creation, heads to the ballot – it must first pass constitutional muster. We believe it will fail that test.”   
   Chris Anderson, President Massachusetts High Technology Council. 


   “Our public schools and colleges are drastically underfunded. We have many communities in need of free high-quality prekindergarten. We need to make sure that arts, athletics and cultural activities are available to students no matter where they live.”
   Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

 “Associated Industries of Massachusetts is disappointed by today’s vote, but not surprised. The wording of the question, the fact that it targets a small minority of Massachusetts residents while purporting to raise billions of dollars for new state spending, made passage inevitable. Given the experience of other states, we believe that this measure will not raise the promised revenue and will make Massachusetts less attractive as a business location.”
   John Regan, Executive Vice President for Government Affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

   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 June 12-16, the House met for a total of seven hours and ten minutes and the Senate met for a total of four hours and 36 minutes.
Mon. June 12 House 11:07 a.m. to 11:17 a.m.

                     Senate 11:09 a.m. to 11:16 a.m.
Tues. June 13 No House session

                     No Senate session
Wed. June 14 House 11:00 a.m. to 5:53 p.m.

                     Senate 1:02 p.m. to 2:53 p.m.


Thurs. June 15 House 11:06 a.m. to 11:13 a.m.

                     Senate 11:18 a.m. to 1:56 p.m.


Fri. June 16 No House session

                     No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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