STATE $1.6 BILLION SPENDING PACKAGE

By Bob Katzen

The House 156-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $1.6 billion supplemental budget that contains $700 million for COVID-19 related expenses including $432 million for COVID testing, $72 million for treatments, $45 million for expanded vaccination access and $25 million for personal protective equipment.

Other provisions include $140 million for grants to special education schools to address the impacts of COVID-19 and subsequent variants; $100 million for cities and towns for roads; $100 million for rental assistance for needy families; and extending eviction protections for tenants who have active assistance applications.

The package also extends from April 1, 2022 to April 1, 2023 outdoor dining at restaurants and from May 1, 2022 to April 1, 2023 the law allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine and cocktails with takeout orders.

Supporters said the package is a fiscally responsible one that will fund important programs, benefit many residents and help Massachusetts prepare for the futur
An amendment proposed by Rep. Peter Durant (R-Spencer) that would have suspended the state’s 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax until gas prices fall below $3.70 per gallon was defeated on a voice vote without a roll call vote. Under House rules anyone can make the motion to require a roll call vote and a roll call must be held if at least 16 members support requiring a roll call. Durant himself did not ask for a roll call. “It was simply part of the negotiation process for future efforts that may still come up,” responded Durant when asked by Beacon Hill Roll Call why he didn’t request a roll call. Durant did not respond to several follow up e-mails by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to elaborate and explain what he meant by his statement and to reveal what the “negotiation process” involved.

“Constituents and suffering motorists will never know how their House lawmaker voted because no House member was willing to go on record to show who supports or opposes this temporary relief for the taxpayers,” said Paul Craney, a spokesman for the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “Despite record gasoline prices, the Massachusetts House of Representatives once again proved how selfish they are with our money,” continued Craney. “They had an opportunity to provide temporary gas tax relief and they voted it down and didn’t even have the courage to go on record with their vote. Once again, politicians are protected and the taxpayers lose at the Statehouse. It’s deeply disappointing that House lawmakers play games to protect themselves from hard votes while motorists are still left paying the highest recorded prices for a gallon of gasoline,” concluded Craney.

“With the skyrocketing price of gas, suspension of the gas tax is a small, simple step that the commonwealth can take to provide some relief to the residents of Massachusetts,” said Durant. “Tying this relief to the ongoing price of fuel is the most equitable way to make sure taxpayers continue to see this relief until the nation gets this situation under control.”

Opponents of the suspension said Massachusetts would jeopardize its bond ratings by suspending the tax and the state would face higher rates for borrowing. They said they could perhaps support other ways to provide relief at the pump but not this amendment which would do more harm than good.

According to Gov. Baker’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget, the gas tax is projected to generate $743.7 million in fiscal 2023.

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