Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 43 – Report No. 37 September 10-14, 2018

By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House and Senate last week.

This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on how often local senators voted with their party leadership in 2018.

The votes of the 2018 membership of 31 Democrats were compared to former Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) and to Majority Leader Cindy Creem (D-Newton) on the four roll calls on which Chandler didn’t vote.

The votes of the 2018 membership of five Republicans were compared with those of GOP Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).

Beacon Hill Roll Call uses 215 votes from the 2018 Senate session as the basis for this report. This includes all roll calls that were not on local issues. Any roll call for which a senator was absent did not count in determining a senator’s votes with their party leadership.

None of the 31 Democratic members voted with Chandler 100 percent of the time but four came very close. Sens. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), Joe Boncore (D-Winthrop), Sal DiDomenico (D-Boston) and Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) opposed Chandler on only one roll call each.

Another four senators opposed Chandler on only two roll calls each: Sens. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont), Nick Collins (D-Boston), Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) and John Keenan (D-Quincy) .

The Democratic senator who voted the lowest percentage of times with Chandler was Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) who voted with her only 81.7 percent of the time. She disagreed with Chandler on 35 votes.

There were no Republicans who voted with Tarr 100 percent of the time. Sen. Vinny DeMacedo came the closest and voted with Tarr 96.7 percent of the time. He disagreed with Tarr on only seven votes.

The GOP senator who voted with Tarr the lowest percentage of times is Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth) who voted with him only 93 percent of the time. He disagreed with Tarr on 15 votes.

PERCENTAGE OF TIMES LOCAL SENATORS VOTED WITH THEIR PARTY’S LEADERSHIP IN 2018

The percentage next to the senator’s name represents the percentage of times the senator supported his or her party’s leadership.

The number in parentheses represents the number of times the senator opposed his or her party’s leadership.

Some senators voted on all 215 roll call votes. Others missed one or more of the 215 votes. The percentage for each senator is calculated based on the number of roll calls on which he or she voted and does not count the roll calls for which he or she was absent.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen 94.2 percent (12)

ALSO UP ON BEACON

HOW TO SPEND A $1 BILLON SURPLUS – The Local Government Advisory Commission heard from state and local officials at a hearing last week. The topic was how the state should spend its estimated $1 billion fiscal 2018 surplus. The 40-member commission was formed to be an independent advocate for the interests of local city and town governments in their relationship with state and federal governments. Under current law, approximately half of the surplus is required to go into the state’s reserve fund. The rest is up for grabs.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s Administration and Finance Secretary Mike Heffernan assured the commission that the administration is on top of the issue. “We’re engaged at both the staff and leadership level … especially now that we got through the primaries,” Heffernan told the commission.

Baker recently filed a package to use the surplus money for several things including $150 million for K-12 and higher education programs, with $72 million of that amount dedicated to support school safety. The proposal includes training of first responders to better handle threats within schools; $40 million in additional aid to school districts to hire social workers, mental health counselors and psychologists; $20 million in matching state grants for security and communications upgrades in K-12 schools and public colleges and universities; $1 million for school safety training for educators, health officials and first responders; $4 million to provide training to School Resource Officers; $2.4 million to create a tip line to provide public safety and school personnel with timely information on potential risks; $2 million for a statewide “Say Something” campaign; and $500,000 to create a school safety website.

Other provisions include $50 million for cities and towns to fund local road and bridge maintenance and improvement projects; $30 million for municipal clean water projects; $8 million for multi-year municipal police training needs; $5.9 million for tuition and fee reimbursements for National Guard members; and $5 million in transitional housing assistance for hurricane evacuees from Puerto Rico.

“We hope that the administration and municipal leadership will again get behind an effort to secure legislation to make incremental improvements to school budgets by implementing recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, especially as it includes accurate census of economic disadvantaged children and immigrant students, and addresses retiree health insurance,” said Beverly Hugo, president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

“The surplus our state government is experiencing should be returned to the taxpayers in the form of a tax rebate,” said Paul Craney, Executive Director of the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “It is their money.”

AUTOMATIC INCOME TAX AND LONG-TERM CAPITAL GAINS CUT LIKELY ON JANUARY 1 – Sufficient economic growth in 2018 under the terms of a 2002 law may result in a tax cut for millions of Bay State taxpayers in 2019. The cut would come from a reduction in the income tax rate and long-term capital gains tax from 5.1 percent to 5.05 percent effective January 1, 2019.

These tax cuts do not need the approval of the Legislature. They are part of a system devised by the Legislature when it approved a $1 billion-plus tax hike package in 2002. The package set the long-term capital gains tax at 5.3 percent and froze the income tax rate at 5.3 percent instead of allowing it to drop to 5 percent in January 2003 — a reduction that was approved by voters in 2000. The 2002 law also includes an automatic trigger that reduces both taxes by one-half of 1 percent each year if certain goals are met, including if revenue from the prior fiscal year grew at least 2.5 percent faster than the rate of inflation.

“Next year will mark 30 years — three decades — since the state income tax rate was ‘temporarily’ hiked from its historic 5 to 5.95 percent, only ‘for 18 months’ we were promised back then,” said Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT). “We’ve been fighting to roll it back ever since. Despite windfall revenues and profligate spending there was never ‘enough revenue’ to keep the promise.”

“CLT pursued two ballot question petition drives to help the Legislature keep its promise, in 2000 winning the ballot vote with 59 percent,” Ford added. “Two years later the Legislature arrogantly froze it, ignoring the voters and replacing their mandate with ‘triggers.’ [Former CLT Executive Director] Barbara Anderson died before ever seeing the “temporary” income tax hike return to 5 percent. Three decades later, with revenue again pouring in, it’s still not complete. Maybe it’ll finally return to 5 percent before more of us are dead and gone?”

“Massachusetts stands to lose over $80 million in this fiscal year alone, and over $160 million in the next fiscal year from this impending .05% rate reduction,” said Revenue Committee chair Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington). “These losses will compound, year after year, just as the previous rate reductions have. This reduction in the income tax rate is required by a 16-year-old law that did not anticipate the economic realities of today. The infrastructure needs and demands of the commonwealth have only increased since its passage and we have habitually underfunded critical services—transportation and education [are] high on the list.”

Kaufman continued, “Reducing the amount of revenue coming into the state is unwise particularly at this time as we anticipate further cuts in federal funding due to the recent federal tax reform. Reduced state revenue and federal aid will disproportionately hurt middle and low-income people while the state and federal cuts will disproportionately benefit the wealthy. That’s not good tax policy. I hope my colleagues take up this fight in earnest in this coming session.”

LOTTERY AID TO CITIES AND TOWNS

Note to readers: You choose the headline that you think is the fairest.

The headline could be a negative one:

“Lottery aid to cities and towns drops by $42 million”

Or a positive one:

“Lottery revenues climb to record high of $5.291 billion and aid to cities and towns is the second highest ever.”

Both statements are true.

The Massachusetts Lottery took in a record $5.291 billion this year, $194 million more than last year’s $3.891 million.

But aid to cities and towns did slip by $42 million — from last year’s $1.039 billion to $997 million this year.

But the $997 million was still the second highest local aid payment ever made to cities and town in Massachusetts.

Which one do you choose?

FILL OUT ONE APPLICATION FOR MULTI-STATE BENEFITS (S 612) – Approved by the Health Care Financing Committee and stuck in the Senate Ways and Means Committee since May 29, 2018 is a bill that would allow individuals to simultaneously apply online, on a state-sponsored website, for various state-funded benefits including MassHealth, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), veterans benefits, child care subsidies, housing subsidies, fuel assistance and other needs-based health care, nutrition and shelter benefits.

Supporters say that people who need state assistance usually need it from several different programs. They noted this presents a problem because it is difficult for people without cars and child care to go to all the different places to apply. They said a one-stop common application would help streamline the system and avoid a lot of bureaucratic red tape.

BAN HAND-HELD CELL PHONES IN CARS (S 2092) – BAN HAND-HELD CELL PHONES IN CARS (S 2092) – Approved by the Senate and stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee since June 30, 2017 is a measure that would prohibit drivers from using a hand-held cell phone or another device to make a call, operate the phone’s camera or access social media while driving. The measure allows drivers to use only a hands-free phone.

Use of a hand-held phone would be permitted in emergencies including if the vehicle was disabled; medical attention or assistance was required; police, fire or other emergency services were necessary for someone’s personal safety; or a disabled vehicle or an accident was present on a roadway.

Violators would be fined $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third and subsequent offenses. A third offense would result in the violation being be considered a moving violation for purposes of the safe driver insurance plan.

Supporters say that the bill would save lives and prevent accidents. They note that the measure does not ban cell phone use but simply requires the use of hands-free ones. They pointed to accidents, deaths and injuries involving hand-held cell phones.

Some opponents say that the restriction is another example of government intrusion into people’s cars and lives. Others noted that there are already laws on the books prohibiting driving while distracted.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“I think he is defining noble service as he represents us in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and I want the rest of America to see what Gov. Baker is doing because he is a remarkable leader in a very blue state, and he’s got a red heart in a blue state and he demonstrates the ability to bring his heart to work every day but respect where he governs.”

Former President George W. Bush’s former chief of staff Andy Card on Gov. Charlie Baker.

“It is an old system and it’s been around for a long time. So we have some assets in the system that are 100 years old and some assets that are less than five years old. So, for me, the key long-term is to make sure that, in addition to making the investments to fix and improve the systems and the processes that we have, we also have to make sure that we have a long-term maintenance plan for all these assets as well to continue to keep them at a good rate of repair.”

MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez on the Boston Globe’s report that an internal MBTA assessment of its assets found that 57 percent of the T’s stations or garages scored a 2 or lower on a 1-to-5 scale, with five being the best rating.

“The legislative exemption undermines the rights reserved for the people in the state constitution and makes it impossible for citizens to uphold their end of the bargain by being engaged in the democratic process.”

The Pioneer Institute’s Mary Connaughton on why the Legislature should change the law that exempts the Legislature form the public records law.

“Every year, tens of thousands of Massachusetts families struggle to pay their heating bills. My goal with this new program is to make sure our residents have the financial assistance they need to stay warm during the cold winter months.”

Attorney General Maura Healey on her $3 million grant program to help Massachusetts consumers pay or lower their monthly natural gas heating bills.

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 September 10-14, the House met for a total of 51 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 38 minutes.

Mon. Sept. 10 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:27 a.m.

Senate 11:08 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.

Tues. Sept. 11 No House session

No Senate session

Wed. Sept. 12 No House session

No Senate session

Thurs. Sept. 13 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:27 a.m.

Senate 11:07 a.m. to 11:33 a.m.

Fri. Sept. 14 No House session

No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com