By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week Beacon Hill Roll Call continues a series of report on how local legislators in 2017-2018 voted on roll calls raising, lowering or creating new taxes.
This week: Part two of a two-part series of reports on House members’ votes on tax proposals.
A NEIGHBORHOOD CAN FORM A DISTRICT WITH TAXING POWER (H 4546)
House 149-2, approved a local option bill allowing a city or town to authorize the creation of community benefit districts which would permit owners of contiguous property in a city or town to form a district and impose taxes to pay for additional services, improvements, events and other projects and activities within the district. The districts would be operated by a nonprofit board. The measure never received final approval by the House and Senate and it has been stuck in the Senate since July 18, 2018.
Here’s what supporters and opponents said at the time of the debate:
“Community benefit districts are another tool that municipalities can use to help grow their local economies and build good neighborhoods where people can live, work and play,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn). “This nationally proven model will create opportunities in downtowns, main streets and town centers across the commonwealth.”
“The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance believes that community benefit districts can be a game changer,” said Andre Leroux, Executive Director of the alliance. “Cities and towns in Massachusetts are struggling to maintain basic services for residents and businesses, much less provide the amenities that world-class, walkable places need to thrive. The bill establishes a way for communities to organize a public-private-nonprofit partnership to support their downtown, Main Street, cultural district, historic area or other important place. It’s really about empowering local people to tackle their own challenges.”
Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), one of only two representatives to vote against the bill, said this new option allows certain property owners to create their own fiefdoms and the ability to assess other property owners for purposes determined by themselves. “These are the kind of activities for which local government exists,” said Provost. “Why would we want to have a class of … private, parallel quasi-governments to perform these functions? Is the democracy, transparency and accountability of local elected government a problem?”
“Homeowners, family-owned businesses and their employees could be negatively impacted by groups who manipulate or misuse the powers created under this bill that privatizes some of local government’s management and expense of tax dollars, community development and community services functions,” said Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Brockton).
“Block by block they’re coming for taxpayers,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Will the Legislature next propose also taxing us at the street level, then backyard by backyard? Today such speculation is not so far-fetched.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost No
2018 SALES TAX HOLIDAY (H 4714)
House 127-18, approved an amendment allowing consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on Saturday, August 11 and Sunday, August 12 without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.
Supporters of the bill said the holiday, which has been in effect for many years, would boost retail sales and noted that consumers would save millions of dollars. They argued that the state’s sales tax revenue loss would be offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days.
Some opponents of the bill said the state cannot afford the up to $30 million estimated revenue loss and argued the holiday actually generates little additional revenue for stores because consumers typically buy the products even without the tax-free days. They said that the Legislature should be looking at broader, deeper tax relief for individuals and businesses and not a tiny tax-free holiday. Others said that legislators should not vote for this tax holiday when they have not yet restored all the local aid, education and other important program cuts made over the past few years.
(A “Yes” vote is for the sales tax holiday. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes/Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes/Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes/Yes
ALLOW AMENDMENTS REDUCING THE MEALS TAX AND SALES TAX (H 4640)
House 116-34 and 115-35, upheld the ruling of Acting Speaker Paul Donato that amendments reducing the meals tax and sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent are beyond the scope of a bill being debated in the House and will not be allowed on the House floor for debate and a vote.
Supporters of the ruling said the ruling is correct because both amendments introduce a new subject that is not already part of the bill and bypass the legislative process.
Opponents of the ruling said the bill deals with taxes and the amendments are appropriate because they also deal with taxes. They noted that on the sales tax reduction amendment, the bill specifically creates a sales tax holiday which clearly is directly related to an amendment to reduce the sales tax.
(A “Yes” vote is for the ruling of the chair. A “No” vote is against it. The first vote is on allowing debate on the meals tax reduction. The second vote is for allowing it on the sales tax reduction).
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
MORE LOCAL FOR ROAD AND BRIDGE REPAIR – The Local Government Advisory Commission urged the House, Senate and the governor to approve giving cities and towns $300 million annually for local road and bridge repairs for several years.
Last year the Senate initially approved a version providing $200 million annually for three years while the House approved a version providing $200 million for one year. The Senate eventually agreed with the House version of $200 million in one-time funding.
The funding is a bond bill under which the $300 million annually would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds.
“Adequate local aid for municipal and school services is essential for strong cities and towns and our continued economic growth,” said Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoff Beckwith who supports a minimum of $300 million annually.
The Local Government Advisory Commission was created by former Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1976 to ensure that cities and towns are involved in the formulation and evaluation of policies and programs of state government which impact them.
FINDING LOST LIFE INSURANCE POLICIES – The state’s Insurance Division announced that in the past 12 months, it has matched Massachusetts consumers with $2.1 million in missing life insurance policies or annuities through the use of the national Life Insurance Policy Locator. The locator, created by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has matched up 342 beneficiaries with $4.1 million in the Bay State since it was launched in November 2016.
Participating insurers compare requests by a consumer with available policyholder information and report all matches to the state Insurance Division. If there is a match, consumers are contacted and “reunited” with their policy.
“State insurance regulators saw there was a need for a national service like this one a few years ago as a result of consumer inquiries and complaints regarding lost policies or unnamed beneficiaries,” said Division of Insurance Commissioner Gary Anderson. “Without this tool, there are many individuals and families who would not have the financial benefits their loved one intended them to have. While life insurance can be a difficult topic for families to discuss, it’s critical that policy information is kept safe and accessible, and that beneficiaries are fully informed.”
“Life insurance offers a layer of protection and financial comfort to loved ones in the event of a death,” said Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Undersecretary John Chapman. “This tool has clearly been effective in connecting many Massachusetts consumers with lost policies and the money they’re owed.”
You can find the locator service at https://eapps.naic.org/life-policy-locator/#/welcome
BAN ELEPHANT ACTS IN CIRCUSES (H 418) – A bill that would ban elephant acts from being used in traveling circuses and other shows in Massachusetts has been stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee since October 17, 2017. The bill, which would fine violators between $5,000 and $10,000, had received a favorable report from the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture before being shipped over to House Ways and Means.
BAN ALL WILD AND EXOTIC ANIMALS (S 490) A broader bill that would prohibit performances by any wild and exotic animals and impose up to a $5,000 fine on violators was shipped off to a study committee, which is the same as being rejected. Under the bill, exotic animals include zebras, camels, llamas, crocodiles, ostriches and many others.
FINANCIAL LITERACY (S 2374) – A bill requiring the state to develop and allow cities and towns to institute a program to teach financial literacy to students in kindergarten to grade 12 has been stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee Since March 26, 2018. The measure was approved unanimously by the Senate on March 22, 2018 Topics covered would include understanding banking and financial services, loans, interest, credit cards, online commerce, renting or buying a home, balancing a checkbook, state and federal taxes and charitable giving.
UNSOLICITED CREDIT CARDS AND CHECKS (H 169) – A bill that would prohibit a consumer from being liable for any debt incurred by the unauthorized use, by someone other than the recipient, of unsolicited credit cards, checks and vouchers sent by banks was given initial approval by the House on June 23, 2017. These items, sent to consumers by banks and other financial institutions, can be used instantly but are actually loans which must be repaid. The bill is stuck in the Committee on Bills in Third Reading.
WINDOW GUARDS (H 2500)- Also stuck in the Bills on Third Reading Committee is legislation that requires landlords to install window guards in all units of their buildings that have a window higher than six feet off the ground and in which a child under ten years of age lives. The measure was given initial approval by the House on June 29, 2017. The measure also prohibits landlords from discriminating against potential renters who have children under ten and fines them from $250 to $500.
“What needs to be said in a very straightforward way is that the Democratic party is straight-up racist. The structural racism that we’re talking about dismantling is in the party. And this is one of the reasons why it’s frustrating to be standing up on a stage at a Democratic party behind speeches behind made about Republicans dividing the country.”
Rep.-Elect Nika Elugardo (D-Boston)
“We are working every day to build a more diverse and inclusive [Democratic] party in Massachusetts, and we always welcome constructive feedback on how we can do that better. While party bylaws prohibit us from actively supporting candidates in primary elections, we are thrilled with the slate of candidates who were elected … and look forward to working with them to continue fighting for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, communities of color, and working families here in the commonwealth.”
Gus Bickford, Chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, responding to Elugardo.
“Once again the evidence that Massachusetts gun laws are somehow a success is simply a false narrative. It seems more and more apparent that the supporters of so-called gun control would rather live a lie than actually save lives.”
Jim Wallace, Executive Director of the Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) of Massachusetts on the 2017 FBI Crime Report which he says supports GOAL’s belief that Massachusetts’ gun laws are far from a success.
“One again the special interest gun lobby is shamelessly misrepresenting the indisputable facts about Massachusetts’ most effective gun laws and lowest gun death rate in the entire Nation. GOAL dishonestly cherry picks homicide rates only and ignores suicides, accidents and the total number of all gun related deaths in Massachusetts.”
John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence.
“Comcast stuck too many Massachusetts customers with lengthy, expensive contracts that left many in debt and others with damaged credit. Customers have a right to clear information about the products and services they buy. This settlement should encourage the entire cable and telecommunications industry to take a close look at their advertisements and make sure customers are getting a fair offer.”
Attorney General Maura Healey announcing a settlement with Comcast will pay $700,000 in refunds and cancelled debts for more than 20,000 Massachusetts customers amid allegations that the company violated state consumer protection laws by using deceptive advertisements to promote its long-term cable contracts.
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 November 12-16, the House met for a total of one hour and three minutes and the Senate met for a total of four hours and 34 minutes.
Mon. November 12 No House session
No Senate session
Tues. November 13 House 11:08 a.m. to 11:27 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 3:18 p.m.
Wed. November 14 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. November 16 House 11:04 a.m. To 11:48 a.m.
Senate 11:10 a.m. To 11:31 a.m.
Fri. November 17 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.