By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of May 6-10.
CON CON VOTES TO TAX MILLIONAIRES ANOTHER 4 PERCENT (H 86)
House and Senate held a constitutional convention and approved 156-37, (House approved 121-33, Senate approved 35-4), 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. Language in the amendment requires that “subject to appropriation” the revenue will go to fund quality public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.
The proposal is sponsored by Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Rep. James O’Day (D-West Boylston). In order to go on the ballot for voters to decide, it needs to twice have the votes of 101 of the 200 members of the House and Senate in the current 2019-2020 session and again in the 2021-2022 session. The earliest it could be on the ballot is in November 2022.
A similar effort by a group called the “Raise Up Coalition” to get the question on the 2018 ballot was derailed when it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Judicial Court which said the constitution prohibits placing more than one objective in a single proposed constitutional amendment that is sought by a citizens’ group. The court’s decision noted that the proposal imposed the tax and then stipulates how the money could be spent.
The current amendment is proposed by legislators rather than citizens and according to proponents, amendments proposed by legislators can have more than one objective and would not be ruled unconstitutional by the court.
There was no debate on the proposal and no amendments were considered despite efforts by GOP Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) to propose one. Jones said that Senate President Karen Spilka, who presided over the convention was intent on gaveling through the proposal quickly and deflected his attempts to offer an amendment. Jones said his amendment would have required that revenue from the new tax be spent in addition to funds already directed toward education and transportation, and not simply replace those funds.
Jones was clearly unhappy with the procedure. “You know what it is?” Jones told the State House News Service. “You can quote me. It’s b——–. That’s what it is.”
Senate President Karen Spilka said there will be debate and the opportunity to propose amendments when the proposal is debated again on June 12.
Supporters say the amendment will affect only 20,000 extremely wealthy individuals and will generate up to $2 billion annually in additional tax revenue. They argue that using the funds for education and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation will benefit millions of Bay State taxpayers. They note the hike would help lower income families which are now paying a higher share of their income in taxes.
Opponents argue the new tax will result in the loss of 9,500 private sector jobs, $405 million annually in personal disposable income and some millionaires moving out of state. They say that the earmarking of the funds for specific projects is illegal and said all the funds will go into the General Fund and be up for grabs for anything.
“The new revenue that would be raised by the Fair Share Amendment would go a long way in helping to fix crumbling roads and bridges, improving service on the MBTA and other public transportation, increasing funding for public schools, expanding access to quality early childhood education, and making higher education more affordable for students and families,” said Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), the Senate sponsor of the proposal. “It’s also the best way to raise revenue that would make our tax system fairer and more progressive, rather than increasing taxes on middle class families who cannot afford to pay more. I’m pleased that the Legislature’s action today moves the Fair Share Amendment one step closer to the ballot.”
“The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance (MFA) stands with the voters, who on five separate occasions voted against making Massachusetts a graduated income tax state, and with the state’s highest court which recently rejected a similar scheme as unconstitutional,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the MFA. “Some lawmakers think history started in 2019, but this policy idea is the most rejected in the state’s history. The answer should always be ‘no,’ when considering removing our constitutionally protected guarantees of equal taxation.”
“Community, faith, and labor groups all across Massachusetts strongly support the Fair Share Amendment because it’s the most fair, progressive and sustainable way to raise the major new revenue Massachusetts needs to invest in transportation and public education,” said Andrew Farnitano, the spokesman for Raise Up Massachusetts. “We thank the Legislature for moving the Fair Share Amendment forward today.”
“If there was ever any doubt that the Legislature would expedite the scheme to tax more, today’s brief constitutional convention dispelled it,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “It took longer to call the convention to order than to actually vote on and advance the so-called ‘Millionaire’s Tax,’’’ Ford added. “A whopping billion dollars in excess revenue above last April’s haul poured into state coffers just last month alone but that’s still not enough for the ‘spendoholics’ on Beacon Hill. More never is.”
(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 Didn’t Vote Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
$200 MILLION IN CHAPTER 90 FUNDING FOR LOCAL ROADS (H 69)
House 156-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The package is a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds.
Other provisions include $200 million for rail improvements and $1.5 billion in bonding to allow for federal interstate repairs to advance. According to officials, 80 percent of the $1.5 billion would be reimbursed by the federal government.
Supporters said the $200 million would help cities and towns keep their roads and bridges safe and allow many vital municipal road projects to move forward.
No one voted against the bill but there are some legislators and city and town officials who say the $200 million that has been given for the past few years is insufficient. The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) said it appreciates that the bill is moving forward because cities and towns maintain and repair 30,000 miles of local roads—that’s 90 percent of the roadways in the Bay State.
However, for several years, the MMA has been seeking to increase the amount to $300 million. “The MMA’s long-term goal is to work with the governor and Legislature on a shared strategy to increase Chapter 90 funding and provide a multi-year framework, so that cities and towns can improve the quality of our roadways and save taxpayer dollars,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith.
Transportation House chairman Bill Straus (D-Mattapoisett) said the current $200 million is sufficient when combined with other state programs to help cities’ and towns’ infrastructure including a $50 million small bridge repair.
“We have increased not just state spending, but the money we provide to municipalities in other ways,” said Straus. “I don’t agree that we’ve flatlined the expenditure. I just think we’re striving to find additional ways, either through the bridge program which I would like to see expanded or as direct budget aid to municipalities for their road and bridge needs.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Didn’t Vote
. ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT LEGALIZING SPORTS BETTING – Anticipating that sports betting will soon come to the Bay State, the State House News Forum is holding a forum on Thursday, May 16 from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education Center at 10 Winter Place in Boston. A panel of experts will discuss the future of this new tax revenue source and the challenge it presents to current revenue sources like the Massachusetts State Lottery.
On Tuesday, May 28 and Wednesday, May 29, the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies will hold hearings at the Statehouse on several bills to legalize sports gambling in the Bay State. The May 28 hearing is in Gardner Auditorium and is by invitation only. The May 29 hearing is in Room B-1 and is open to the public.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Murphy v. NCAA to overturn the federal ban on state-authorized sports betting has opened up the floodgates of sports betting in Massachusetts and across the country. Gov. Charlie Baker kicked things off in January when he filed a bill to legalize sports betting.
Some of the key players in government and industry at the forum will discuss the major considerations Massachusetts will address as the legislation is considered on Beacon Hill.
Panelists include Cathy Judd-Stein, chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission; Michael Sweeney, executive director of the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission; Chip Tuttle, CEO of Sterling Suffolk Racecourse; and Sen. Eric Lesser and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.
Admission is only $10 and open to the public. You can register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-line-on-mass-sports-betting-tickets-60422015876
For more information, contact George Donnelly at firstname.lastname@example.org
TAX SUGARY DRINKS (S 1709) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on a bill that taxes sugary soft drinks which are currently exempt from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.
Supporters say the tax would raise an estimated $368 million that the state would put to good use. They note the tax would discourage people from buying these drinks, help fight the obesity epidemic and stem the rising tide of obesity-related health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Opponents say families are struggling financially and it is not the time for another tax increase promoted by the “food police.” Some noted that many other things contribute to obesity including a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and fast food consumption.
REDUCE SALES TAX FROM 6.25 PERCENT TO 5 PERCENT (H 3545) The Revenue Committee’s hearing also included a bill reducing the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent
Supporters say this increased sales tax is hurting consumers and retail operations, especially those on the state’s borders.
Opponents say the state cannot afford the estimated $1.25 billion loss of revenue and predicted that this cut would result in reductions to local aid, education, health care and human service programs.
NEW EXEMPTIONS FROM THE SALES TAX – Other bills on the Revenue Committee’s agenda include exempting several purchases from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax including gun safes and trigger locks (S 1680); residential security systems (S 1658); all Energy Star products and hybrid and electric motor vehicles purchased on Earth Day (H 2571); and artisan products sold in a cultural district (H 2460).
MAKE “ROADRUNNER” THE OFFICIAL ROCK SONG OF MASSACHUSETTS (H 2739) – The Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight held a hearing on legislation making “Roadrunner” the official rock song of the commonwealth. Natick native Jonathan Richman led the group Modern Lovers who sang the tune as a 1970s ode to the joys of driving along Massachusetts’ Route 128 late at night. The bill is sponsored by Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick).
“Roadrunner, roadrunner going faster miles an hour,” begins the song. “Gonna drive to the Stop & Shop. With the radio on at night. And me in love with modern moonlight. Me in love with modern rock ‘n’ roll. Modern girls and modern rock ‘n’ roll. Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on. Like the roadrunner.”
“I can think of no better song to designate as the official rock song of the commonwealth,” said Linsky. “‘Roadrunner’ embodies what it was like for my generation growing up in the Massachusetts of the 1970s and 1980s. The passionate and candid lyrics take the listener on a late-night car ride down Massachusetts Route 128, passing by several Bay State landmarks, including Stop & Shop, Howard Johnson’s, Route 3 and the Mass Turnpike. ‘Roadrunner’ combines the liberation of youth on the open road with the sights and sounds of our beloved commonwealth.”
The original backers of the campaign for “Roadrunner” were ex-legislators Bob Hedlund, now Mayor of Weymouth and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Hedlund explains that he first heard the song as a 15-year-old working at a local Hingham gas station in 1977. He immediately bonded with the song and years later, although concerned that people might think this is just another frivolous bill, decided to listen to his heart and filed the proposal in 2013.
Rep. Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury) and former Marshfield Rep. Jim Cantwell, filed a rival bill making the official state rock song the classic Boston-based Aerosmith rock ballad “Dream On” written by Stephen Tyler. Neither bill was getting traction in the Legislature and eventually Cutler and Cantwell decided to end the competition and support “Roadrunner.”
“‘Roadrunner’ is a great Massachusetts rock song and Aerosmith is a classic Massachusetts rock band,” said Cutler. “Since ‘Dream On’ is not specific to our state per se, we agreed, with sweet emotion, that it was time to come together and support ‘Roadrunner.’ We hope the bill passes this session and it’s not the same old song and dance. As a final note, I’m thankful we’ve had this fun discussion and been able to focus attention on the rich musical tradition in the commonwealth.”
“The song is a teenager’s Paul Revere ride,” Hedlund said. “The lyrics capture the perfect mood and vibe about everything that’s great about rock ‘n’ roll. I am hopeful it will get through all the legislative hurdles this year and be signed by Gov. Baker.”
QUOTABLE QUOTES ON THE SENATE’S $42.7 BILLION BUDGET
The Senate Committee on Ways and Means unveiled a $42.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2020.
“I am proud that my first budget as chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means is a fiscally balanced budget that fulfills our commitments and focuses on areas of fundamental importance to our commonwealth. By targeting investments in education, mental and behavioral health, workforce development, and economic opportunity, this budget is aligned with the Senate’s commitment to ensure equity and access for all people.”
—Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport)
“The people of Massachusetts have long deferred dreams of bold improvements to education, transportation, and investments in programs that ensure all residents have the chance to succeed. While the Senate Ways and Means Committee does not propose any significant, new revenue, it does include some modest revenue initiatives that the governor proposed in his budget and the House did not include. Without significant, new revenue, the commonwealth will continue to put on hold any initiatives that require major investment.”
—Marie-Frances Rivera, President of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center
“We are happy to see that Senate Ways & Means has kept strategic increases to the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Recreation Watershed as well as an increase to the Division of Ecological Restoration in Chair Rodrigues’ first budget. It speaks to the importance that the Senate has placed on protecting public health, the environment and supporting our economy. We do hope to see the line-item for Department of Conservation and Recreation administration increase further as the budget process continues.”
—Environmental League of Massachusetts President Elizabeth Henry’s statement
“We’re pleased that the Senate budget makers are moving in the right direction on public education funding, both with increased state aid and with their commitment to providing more funding for low-income communities whose students have the greatest needs. Still, we recognize that students, especially students of color in low-income urban schools and students in rural communities, need more than this budget provides, and they need to see those increased investments this year. We need to build on this down payment by passing a comprehensive school finance overhaul that fully funds local schools this spring.”
— Statement from Fund Our Future
“We are pleased the Senate Ways and Means Committee extended MassHealth’s authority to provide greater leverage in negotiating lower drug prices. The provisions allow MassHealth to refer high-cost drug manufacturers to the Health Policy Commission (HPC) if negotiations are unsuccessful, where the HPC could require manufacturers to submit disclosures and testify at public hearings to justify their prices. We commend the Senate for strengthening this proposal to make progress not only towards transparency but also accountability.”
—Amy Rosenthal, Director of Health Care for All
“The Senate Ways and Means budget proposal released yesterday is a significant step in the right direction for our public schools, providing more Chapter 70 funds than the House or the governor’s proposal and directing much of the new money to educating low-income students … Although the Senate proposal is a good first step, the only way to make sure this is not just a one-time increase is for the Legislature to pass a bill that begins implementing all of the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations, addresses other shortcomings of the school funding formula and guarantees continued increases in the future.
—Merrie Najimy, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association
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 May 6-10, the House met for a total of five hours and 22 minutes while the Senate met for a total of eight hours and 21 minutes.
Mon. May 6 House 11:11 a.m. to 1:27 p.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 5:13 p.m.
Tues. May 7 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. May 8 House 11:08 a.m. to 1:55 p.m.
Senate 11:15 a.m. to 1:20 p.m.
Thurs. May 9 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:23 a.m.
Senate 11:07 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.
Fri. May 10 No House session
No Senate session
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